In 2020, the National Retail Federation reported that an average household spends about $800 on school supplies. For families in need, buying school supplies for their children can make for hard decisions between rent, utilities, groceries or notebooks and markers. 

That’s why two Oak Park organizations are asking community members to step up and donate. In the last few weeks, Oak Park and River Forest Township and the Hephzibah Children’s Association have launched separate school supply drives, encouraging area residents to drop off folders, notebooks, backpacks, lunch boxes, markers and more. 

This initiative is all about making sure children have access to what they need, said Dominique Hickman, youth interventionist at the township. Pens, pencils and paper are considered basic necessities for students, and when they don’t have those items, it may be harder for them to want to learn, she said. They may feel ashamed or embarrassed.

“Just give back – period,” Hickman said, adding this school drive is meant to help give students the chance to start off the school year on the right note. 

The township first held a back-to-school supply drive in 2018 and sought to serve children who were part of its youth services program, said Megan Traficano, the chief of the township’s youth services program. Traficano said she, Hickman and other staff expanded the drive to include area children in need. 

Last year, the township was forced to postpone the drive because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the needs of students still remain, Traficano said. 

Because some of the safety guidelines have been lifted, the township plans to host a drive-thru back-to-school event Aug. 13 from 4 to 6 p.m. The event will take place at the township’s parking lot, 105 S. Oak Park Ave. 

Students in grades kindergarten through high school can receive a backpack with school supplies while supplies last. Children must be present at the pick-up. 

The township is accepting donations until Aug. 6. The township does have an Amazon wishlist, which is posted online at oakparktownship.org/youth-services. Supplies can either be ordered and shipped directly to or dropped off at the township office. 

Over at Hephzibah, Development Director Juliet Yera and her staff are looking to collect enough supplies for about 500 children who are part of the local organization’s family-based programs. She said those children – who range from kindergarteners to high school seniors – are either living with foster families or under the care of other loved ones.  

Hephzibah is one of Oak Park’s oldest social service agencies, offering various resources such as foster care and adoption programs, after-school daycare and treatment centers for children traumatized by abuse, neglect or abandonment. Yera said the family-based program, which began five years ago, has grown considerably in the past year, adding another 100 children, which is why “we need more supplies than we’ve ever needed before.” 

Yera said many of the program’s foster families are aunts, uncles or grandparents taking care of their nieces, nephews or grandchildren and struggling to provide for additional children in their home. “The burden of taking those kids in and then additionally supplying all of their needs for school is very high for a lot of these families,” she said. 

Like the township, Hephzibah has released a list on Amazon where donors can pick and choose the supplies they want to give. Bottles of Elmer’s glue, pencil sharpeners and sensory toys to help children with anxiety are among the items needed. A complete list can be found at hephzibahhome.org/donate/wishlist. 

Hephzibah will be accepting donations until July 30. Items can be shipped to Hephzibah’s office, 1144 Lake St., 5th Floor, Oak Park, IL 60301. Drop-offs must be coordinated with Volunteer Manager Hannah Weigel, who can be reached at hweigel@hephibahhome.org. 

With the first day of school just around the corner, Yera and Traficano said these efforts are for the children. From remote learning to canceled graduations and proms, the pandemic had put an indefinite pause on the way students went to school, and this is just one way to help bring back some normalcy, Traficano said. 

“It’s just a nice way to give back and show kids that the community cares about them and they want them to be successful in school and that they are thinking about them,” Traficano said. 

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