River Forest's Lincoln School recycles school supplies

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Deborah Kadin

Contributing Reporter

It's the end of the school year and your kids come home with leftover boxes of crayons, markers, an extra pair of scissors and unused notebooks.

Do you keep them for the next year? Maybe. Or maybe you think you ought to give them to children who aren't as fortunate as you.

That notion came to Carla Minutti, an associate professor at Loyola University Medical School, when her two children came home from Lincoln School in River Forest at the end of the 2009 academic year with bags overflowing with crayons, pencils, notebooks and other school supplies.

One connection led to another and another, and the simple idea of recycling — with two messages — took off at Lincoln. This Friday, the last day of school, volunteers at Lincoln School in River Forest will be sorting and boxing up unused school supplies.

From there, Minutti brings them to Loyola where they are taken by medical students overseas and under-served areas of the United States.

Over the five-year period, as many as 25 significantly large boxes of materials have been donated through this project, organized by the school's Green4Good Committee, a District 90-wide initiative that promotes a safe learning environment and encourages environmental stewardship at school and in the community.

The entire effort is voluntary, said Renee Sichlau, a Lincoln parent and member of the school's Green4Good team, who is co-coordinating the effort. Students are encouraged at take home or donate. Keeping or donating helps make for a cleaner environment, she added.

"Many families choose to reuse the supplies, but there's a lot of enthusiasm for getting supplies to kids who don't have access to them," she said. "We're ensuring that kids aren't wasting school supplies. There are lessons here that can translate into other parts of their lives."

Pamela Hyde, Lincoln's principal, agrees.

"It's a good way to get children accustomed to recycling," she said. "It also enlightens them that there are children who have less than they have. It's an opportunity to be the giver and helpful to others. It starts a pattern in their lives that 'I can do this.'"

Besides the fact that this happens on the last day of school, the event is highly anticipated. The hubbub of getting ready to go home is combined with cleaning out desks and backpacks of supplies. From there they're bagged and taken by parents and teachers to the front of the school where they're sorted and boxed.

Where they go after that depends on which medical students who have not yet left as part of the International Service Immersion program, Minutti said. As part of this effort, students from Loyola's Stritch School of Medicine join local health-care providers to administer care in rural communities throughout the world. Whoever is left stuffs the items into their backpacks.

"If they are all gone they're distributed around here," Minutti said.

The program has generated not just enthusiasm but conversation. Sichlau said youngsters have learned that one little thing can make a big difference in someone's life.

And the program has made an impact. Her 10-year-old daughter Isabel, a fourth-grader who has donated every year she's been at Lincoln, said the effort basically sells itself.

"I kind of think of how many things other kids don't have that we have, and how we should care about what they don't have," she said. "It makes me feel good when I can donate these things to help others."

The impact could be even stronger if they could get photos on the receiving end, Minutti said.

"Having images showing that the materials went to good use would be an even better message," she said. "It'll show children that they have been able to share a bit of their abundance or luck. It'll be an even more valuable lesson."

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