Twenty homeless students in were able to start the school year with backpacks full of new school supplies thanks to a generous donation from a local soccer club.
The Downers Grove-based Roadrunners Soccer Club—an organization of more than 30 teams for boys and girls ages 7 to 19—recently held its annual picnic to kick off the 2012 season. Although the event is meant to bring together players and families, club officials decided to do something special this year.
"The picnic is a highlight of our season, but we wanted to do something this year that would demonstrate the importance of giving back to the community," said Tammy Podjasek, vice president of community and events for the Roadrunners.
With the beginning of the school year just weeks away, Podjasek decided to reach out to District 58 Communications Coordinator Jennifer Waldorf to see how the organization could help students or teachers preparing to head back to class.
Waldorf's answer took Podjasek by surprise.
"When I talked to Jennie, she started telling me about the homeless students in District 58, and their need for school supplies," Podjasek said. "We knew we could probably do some sort of school supply drive, but to hear about these students who have nothing—it was heartbreaking and shocking to think about people struggling in our community."
According to Waldorf, District 58 has about 20 students who are currently homeless. Although there is no formal program for providing those students with school supplies, the district was able to do so last year thanks to donations from the DuPage Regional Office of Education and the Downers Grove Junior Woman's Club.
Using a list of supplies recommended by the district, Roadrunners parents and players purchased hundreds of items to donate at the annual picnic. By the end of the day, the organization collected 25 backpacks, 43 packages of loose-leaf paper, 58 spiral notebooks, 33 packages of pencils, 33 packages of pens, 65 boxes of crayons, 26 folders and dozens of other essentials.
"Watching that pile grow and grow was one of the highlights of the picnic," Podjasek said.
The collection was large enough to provide every student with a backpack and plenty of supplies, Waldorf said.
"The sense of stability and consistency that school provides is particularly important for our homeless students, and we are so grateful to the Roadrunners Soccer Club and its families for giving our homeless students the opportunity to start the school year with a brand-new backpack and a fresh set of supplies," she said.
Podjasek said the supply drive was so well-received that the Roadrunners plan to do it again next year.
"It was a great thing because it got everyone involved—the parents, the players and the families," she said. "We're trying to instill a sense of community service in our children. We want them to take a step back and not take what they have for granted. That's why we think it's so important to get them involved in service projects like this early on."
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