As soon as back-to-school time rolls around, a sense of dread washes over Janelle Teague.
As a mother of six who has been denied government subsidized Section 8 housing, Teague depends on back-to-school fairs like the one hosted Thursday by State Sen. Iris Martinez to help her make sure her children transition smoothly from summer to their first day of school.
“I’m a single mom and trying to take care of them consumes me,” said Teague, who lives in the Avondale neighborhood. “I’m stressing out about it and it’s affecting me health-wise. I really utilize these resources.”
When children are going back to classes, schools and organizations give away backpacks, school supply kits and free physicals and eye or dental exams. Often, in mixed income or low-income communities, residents wouldn’t be able to get them otherwise.
In the weeks before Chicago Public Schools open their doors, backpack giveaways and resource fairs have been or will be hosted by Back 2 School Illinois and the Sheridan Park Art Festival.
Celebrities are also getting involved. Jennifer Hudson’s Julian D. King Gift Foundation will have its annual Hatch Day event on Aug. 14 to provide school supplies for the upcoming school year.
STATE Bags is collaborating with SocialWorks, Chance the Rapper’s youth empowerment charity, to donate about 30,000 bags at the Bud Billiken Parade on Saturday, Aug. 12.
“Backpacks aren’t just a necessary item for these communities, they symbolize education and their journey in life,” said Scot Tatelman, co-founder of STATE. “It’s not a level playing field for kids who aren’t able to start with the things they need.”
Martinez’s office has been hosting their resource fair for about 14 years. Sonia Sanchez, an administrative assistant for the senator, said that they plan to give out about 800 backpacks.
“In this day and age, we believe all should be prepared for school,” Sanchez said. “If you have three to five kids, a list of basics can run you $100 or more, plus paying registration fees or buying uniforms. So if we can provide some relief, then we’re doing a good job.”
The National Center for Children in Poverty estimates that about 43 percent of children under 18 in the U.S. live in a low-income family. That’s about 30.6 million kids. In 2015, the group estimated that about 41 percent of children lived in a low-income household.
For Matthew Kurtzman, CEO of Back 2 School Illinois, giving back to school kits benefits not only parents like Teague, who may be working with a limited income, but also gives tools to success and a self-esteem boost for students.
“By giving them the supplies they need, we improve their self worth and help them see they’re worthy of learning,” Kurtzman said. “This isn’t a problem that’s going to be fixed tomorrow. There’s not enough teachers or supplies, and it’s imperative for us to fill those gaps.”
The content of the kits distributed by Back 2 School Illinois varied by age group, but many included folders, notebooks pencil cases and pencils.
“It’s always stressful to think about back-to-school time,” Teague said. “But [resource fairs] are ideal for me, and I’m so glad that the community and the senator are still doing things like this because we need them.”