With the first day of school just around the corner, the local townships aim to make sure that children and teens have what they need to start the year right. This year, the Oak Park and River Forest townships’ annual school supply drive returns with a back-to-school social where families in need can grab stuffed backpacks, enjoy snacks and even get a haircut.

“School is important,” said Moriah Gale, an administrative assistant in the youth services department. “You should have all the tools that you need, and that’s what helps you succeed during the school year. I believe every child has the right to that.”

The drive – which began last month and runs until Aug. 5 – helps families with children in preschool to 12th grade and are from Oak Park and River Forest. Suggested donation items include backpacks, bags, crayons, pencils, folders, glue and rulers. Donors can purchase items through an Amazon wish list where supplies can be sent directly to the township office, or they can drop off their items at the office. The office is located at 105 S. Oak Park Ave. in Oak Park and is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. 

Last year, the National Retail Federation reported families with children in elementary school through high school would spend around $850 on school supplies, an amount likely to increase this year due to inflation.

“The price of life is going up, and so let’s try to help these kids, any families, by taking that burden off the table for them,” said Dominique Hickman, manager of Girls on the Rise, another program part of the townships’ youth services department. “A child feels it when they’re not prepared for the first day of school. They feel it, [and] their friends, their classmates notice it.”

Last year, the townships gave away 180 backpacks, which were packed with basic school supplies, but they hope to exceed that number with a goal of 200, said youth services director Megan Traficano. Traficano told Wednesday Journal that her team has worked over the past weeks to spread the word about the drive and connect with other groups and organizations. Flyers posted across the communities also include a QR code, allowing people to find the Amazon wish list.

Traficano also spoke about the return of the back-to-school social, an event previously coupled with the school supply drive that was paused during the pandemic. The event will be held from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Aug. 12 at the township.

“We have partners in the community that are coming and setting up tables, and some of them will have activities for kids and giveaways,” Traficano said, adding there will also be face painters and a barber who will be cutting children’s hair for free.

“We just want it to be a fun time, too,” she said about the social.

Apart from the collection drive and upcoming festivities, the township year-round accepts donations for its hygiene closet, which offers free personal care products for children and teens. Suggested donation items for the closet include face wash, deodorant, shampoo, socks, tampons and sanitary napkins, hairbrushes and soap bars. A complete list can be found on the township website at https://oakparktownship.org/ or through its Amazon wish list. Like the school supply collection drive, the township is only accepting personal care products that are new and sealed.

More ways to help

Another organization is also looking to make an impact on families in need in Chicagoland. Cradles to Crayons (C2C), a nonprofit with locations in Boston, Philadelphia and Chicago, is planning on giving away 70,000 backpacks filled with school supplies for free for children in need in the Chicago area.

While the backpacks are already accounted for, C2C marketing and communications director Stephanie Held said the nonprofit is working on providing essential items such as clothes, backpacks and personal care products through its 70-plus network of partners, including New Moms in Oak Park and the Austin Childcare Provider’s Network.

Held told the Journal there are two ways families can help C2C. They can donate money or new and gently used clothes. Items needed are new underwear and socks and unopened diapers and pull-ups, as well as diaper wipes. The nonprofit is also looking for shoes for newborns up to an adult size 10, pajamas sizes 2T and up, new hygiene items and books for babies and young children up to age 12. An expanded list can be found on https://www.cradlestocrayons.org/chicago.

Donations can be dropped off at various locations in the city or across the Chicago suburbs, Held said. Exact addresses for drop-offs can also be found on the nonprofit’s site.

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