Eighth graders at Roosevelt Middle School are looking to help homeless individuals, and they are asking residents to step up and pitch in.

As part of a service project, the eighth grade class plans to create care kits – small bags packed with personal toiletries, clothes and food – for individuals experiencing homelessness and are hosting a donation drive to collect various items. The students are currently accepting donations of travel size products such as soap, shampoo, hand sanitizer and tissues; pairs of socks; granola bars and bottles of water. Students are also in need of gallon zip-lock bags to place the items in. 

Donors can drop off the items at three River Forest District 90 schools: Roosevelt, 7560 Oak Ave.; Lincoln Elementary School, 511 Park Ave.; and Willard Elementary School, 1250 Ashland Ave. There are designated bins located inside the lobbies of the three schools, said Olivia Ponzio, a mother of a Roosevelt eighth-grader and an organizer of the donation drive.

Ponzio is on a committee with other parents and helps string together different activities for Field Day, an annual end-of-the-year event for D90’s eighth grade class. Part of that day, she said, is dedicated to doing a service project. Ponzio told Wednesday Journal that the idea for the care kits isn’t an original one; in fact, she was inspired by her eldest son, who a few years ago was a religious education student at St. Giles Catholic Parish in Oak Park and worked on a similar project.

What you can do

Roosevelt Middle School eighth-graders are in need of donations to help build care kits for homeless individuals. They are looking for the following items:

  • New travel size toiletries, including soap, shampoo, hand sanitizers and tissues
  • Pairs of socks
  • Bottles of water
  • Granola bars
  • Gallon zip-lock bags to carry the personal care items

One day, Ponzio said her eldest son came home and showed her the care kit he made and explained “we’re supposed to keep [the kit] in our car, and if we see someone who is in need, we give it to them.”

“My husband and I were both like, ‘That is such a smart idea,’” she said, adding that was why she suggested the project to her fellow committee members.

While the project is easy-to-do, Ponzio said that it is also a conversation starter, one that allows families to talk about the issues of homelessness and its impact on everyday people. In 2020, an estimated 10,431 people in Illinois were experiencing homelessness on any given day, according to a report by the Continuums of Care to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). That total number included family households and veterans, as well as young adults between the ages of 18 and 24, HUD also reported.

Ponzio told the Journal that the goal, at the moment, is to produce 167 care kits, one for each eighth-grader to give away.

“If – God bless – we have a surplus of things and we can make additional bags, that would be great,” she said, adding donations will be accepted until May 13.

Ponzio told the Journal that she hopes people in the community participate in the class’s effort. 

“We take for granted so many things that we have, and there really are so many people out there that don’t have things to take care of themselves – to make themselves feel good,” Ponzio said. “People are in so many difficult positions right now. [The project is] something little-to-do, to help somebody feel good about themselves.”

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