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  WINDY CITY TIMES

Back 2 School Illinois provides free school supplies to those in need
by Ross Forman, Windy City Times
2015-12-04

This article shared 5451 times since Fri Dec 4, 2015
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Back 2 School Illinois ( formerly The Illinois Currency Exchange Charitable Foundation ) has multiple programs, yet its 500-pound gorilla, as director and CEO Matthew Kurtzman tagged it, is the B2SI Free School Supplies Program.

There are more than 1 million students in Illinois who come from low-income families, Kurtzman said, a total which increases annually. "Ideally, we'd be able to provide each and every one of them with basic school supplies. That's the long-term goal of the organization."

Slow and steady, B2SI is expanding its reach. "We're just trying to do our part," he said.

Schools supplies are given out based on the kids' age and grade in school.

B2SI has partnered with numerous community organizations, such as YMCA of Metro Chicago, Boys & Girls Clubs of Chicago, Operation Homefront, and others. It also has partnered with the Chicago Department of Family and Support Services ( DFSS ), which works with area homeless shelters. Those kids get the basic school supplies, along with some hygiene items as well, such as toothpaste, toothbrush, soap, shampoo, etc.

"When we first started, [school supplies] were mostly [distributed] around August and the start of the school year," he said. B2SI has since grown and expanded, thus it is distributing packs at different times of the year as well.

"The need is great," Kurtzman said.

B2SI's school supply distribution program is the largest in the state. In 2014, for instance, the group provided 850,000 school supplies to more than 28,000 underprivileged children.

The B2SI school supply kits contain about 30 supplies.

"It is a pretty dire situation," Kurtzman said. "On average, school teachers are spending hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars, of their own [personal] money to provide school supplies for kids in their classrooms."

Kurtzman said students lacking basic school supplies also suffer from low self-esteem.

"At the distribution events, we never really know what to expect," he said, especially since distribution can be in classrooms, in a school assembly, and others too.

Kurtzman told of the time B2SI wanted to give school supplies to a family as part of a promotion with B96 radio station. "The mother of the six children [that were getting the supplies] was pretty sick and, the day before we were supposed to hand out the supplies, she had to go to the hospital."

She eventually was not able to attend the distribution, which was being held at Six Flags Great America in north suburban Gurnee. She told organizers that, though she wasn't able to attend, the kids really could use the supplies.

Kurtzman said of course they'd still get them, and she broke down crying.

"The impact is far greater than you can imagine," he said.

Kurtzman said B2SI has supported LGBT students, too, many who are homeless. "They have the additional burden of not only being poor, or coming from a poor family, but [they] also have the stigma of being an oppressed minority," said Kurtzman, who is openly gay.

An associate board for B2SI is being launched, with several LGBT involved, he said.


This article shared 5451 times since Fri Dec 4, 2015
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