Almost two months ago, members from all 10 of Oak Park School District 97’s parent-teacher organizations (PTOs) launched their inaugural ‘Share the Warmth’ winter coat drive, asking residents to donate new or gently used children’s jackets, gloves and snow boots. What they didn’t expect was that one donor would give $50,000, instructing the PTOs to help district students in need year-round. 

Pemalyn Hessing, co-president of the PTO Council, an organization that represents parents in D97 elementary and middle schools, said the money will be used to create “angel funds” and be divvied up across the 10 PTOs to assist their respective families. The money could be used to purchase graduation gowns, school supplies and snacks or offset the cost of field trip fees for students. 

“This is to make sure that every child in D97 has the things they need to have a full and meaningful school experience,” Hessing said.

Hessing noted the donor, who wished to remain anonymous, was inspired to give, after reading a story about the ‘Share the Warmth’ drive published in the Oct. 20 issue of Wednesday Journal. 

 Adhering to the donor’s other request, Mak Flournoy, co-founder and co-President of DivCo, the PTO’s Diversity Council, said the $50,000 had to be distributed equitably among the PTOs. The only way to do that, Flournoy said, was to look closely at each school’s student enrollment and the number of students eligible for free or reduced lunch. Those two key factors helped determine the angel fund distribution, which ranged from $2,000 to $6,000 for the elementary schools, she said. District 97 middle schools were able to secure $8,000.

As Hessing and Flournoy reflected on the recent donation, the two spoke about how excited they were to be able to take this step forward and promote the district’s mission of equity. Flournoy  said the angel funds are an example of what “thoughtful” and “intentional” work looks like, as they offer a net of new support for the district’s children, especially those from marginalized groups. These funds, Flournoy added, are a push for PTOs to think less about bake sales and “more leadership and leading.” 

“I’m just really thrilled that we’re at this place between the district and the PTOs where there’s alignment on focusing on racial equity and equity and inclusion within our schools,” Flournoy said, “and, to do so in a way that is meaningful. It’s something that’s good for there not to be tension around. It is really refreshing.” 

A warm success

Oak Park School District 97 parent-teacher organizations’ inaugural ‘Share the Warmth’ coat drive pulled in more than 120 coats, snow pants and winter accessories, according to a press release issued by the PTOs. The donations were brought to Kids’ Kloset, a clothing donation center at First United Church in Oak Park. Kids’ Kloset typically charges $3 for a coat, gloves, hat and scarf, but those fees are waived for clients referred by social workers or charitable organizations, the release said.

For more information or to schedule a visit to the Kids’ Kloset, contact Susan Zaruba at First United Church is located at 848 Lake St. in Oak Park. 

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