When Gov. J.B. Pritzker issued a universal mask mandate for Illinois schools, Anthony Clark, a community organizer and teacher from Oak Park, had one question: “How are we going to address that additional expense and need for many of our families, students and individuals?”

Face masks and hand sanitizer are now essential school supplies just like pen and paper, but access to those items may not be as easy, especially for those in need, said Clark, a special education teacher at Oak Park and River Forest High School.  

So, Clark propped up his nonprofit, Suburban Unity Alliance (SUA), as a platform to launch a back-to-school drive for face masks and travel-sized hand sanitizers. He also partnered with Melissa Villanueva, owner of Brewpoint Craft in Oak Park, and worked with her to make her local coffee shop into a drop-off spot. 

The drive, which kicked off Aug. 10 and runs until Aug. 31, aims to benefit students in need in Oak Park and nearby communities in Proviso Township and Chicago’s Austin neighborhood. 

“There [are] so many families and individuals that are already working on a shoestring budget, doing everything they can just to survive,” said Clark, who founded SUA in 2016 to promote unity in Chicago’s western suburbs. “While $10 to $12 a month or a week extra may not seem a lot, to some people that could be everything.” 

Donors can bring their items to Brewpoint Craft, 163 S. Oak Park Ave. in Oak Park, or its other two locations in suburban Elmhurst. Brewpoint Craft in Elmhurst is located at 617 N. York St. and 124 W. Park Ave. Villanueva suggests donors drop off their items between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday at any of the three locations. The hours and days of operation vary at each location, and Villanueva encourages donors to visit her shop’s website at www.brewpointcoffee.com to see the current schedules. 

Clark and Villanueva are accepting reusable and disposable face masks. Masks must be new and come in sealed packages. They are asking donors to check whether the masks meet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines before dropping them off. 

According to the CDC, cloth masks should be made of two or more layers of breathable fabric and have a nose wire. The CDC does not recommend the use of cloth masks consisting of a thin, single layer of fabric or with exhalation valves or vents. For more information, visit www.cdc.gov and find “Your Guide to Masks.” 

For Villanueva, teaming up with Clark reminded her of the main reason she opened a shop in Oak Park. Brewpoint Craft in Oak Park lives in the now-shuttered L!VE Café, which was run by Reesheda Graham Washington who envisioned creating an inclusive space beyond just serving food and drink.  

Like Graham Washington’s mission, Villanueva has sought to continue that effort and lean into the possibility of making Brewpoint a place to promote change. 

“I just love being a place [where] people can grab their morning coffee and do something like drop off some hand sanitizer and masks to help prevent the spread of COVID in communities who need things like this,” Villanueva said. 

“It’s awesome to see what I was hoping for by coming to Oak Park,” she continued, adding that her partnerships with SUA and L!VE Café plays a much bigger role than what meets the eye. “This is everything we wanted: to be connected with this fight with the larger community.”  

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