Back-to-school relief. Non-profits help families in need of supplies

Donated school supplies that will be distributed to families through Hope’s Front Door at the First Congregational Church of Downers Grove.

While some parents already are starting to cross off items on the back-to-school shopping list, others are wondering how they will afford supplies at all.

That’s where organizations such as Hope’s Front Door in Downers Grove and Hope and Friendship Foundation in Lemont come in.

Last year, Hope’s Front Door collaborated with the Downers Grove Junior Woman’s Club, individuals, several local companies and faith organizations to buy and donate enough supplies to ensure about 300 children in DuPage County had what they needed to start the new school year.

“That represented an almost 35% increase over the previous year and was the largest distribution we have had since 2015,” said Kathy Nazzarini, program director for Hope’s Front Door. “We’re a small, social services nonprofit in the area and that was a significant distribution for us but one that meant a great deal to our clients.”

She attributes the 2022 spike to the lingering effects of the pandemic and the increase in costs of goods and services.

“Last year, our clients were hit really hard,” Nazzarini said. “Living on low or fixed incomes, many were already struggling to make ends meet. With gas prices going through the roof and the cost of groceries and everything else increasing, it made it very difficult for our clients to be able to afford school supplies.”

That situation hasn’t changed much as families prepare to send children back to school.

“Unfortunately, the situation remains much the same today,” Nazzarini said. “The number of new clients we are seeing is surging. From the large number of sign-ups we already have for school supplies this year, I think we’re going to be equal to last year, if not exceed it.”

To that end, Hope’s Front Door again is collecting new school supplies for students in elementary school through high school until Aug. 11 in collaboration with the Downers Grove Junior Woman’s Club, area businesses, faith organizations and individual donors.

Among the most-needed items on the donation wish list are backpacks, three-ring binders, loose-leaf paper, spiral and composition notebooks, pencil cases and boxes, erasers, calculators and dry erase markers. The full wish list can be found at

Items can be dropped off between 10 a.m. and noon Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. (The office is closed on Tuesdays.) Hope’s Front Door is located at 1047 Curtiss St. on the sixth floor.

The school supplies distribution has started with appointments during the day as well as early evenings to accommodate working parents. For more information, contact Hope’s Front Door at 630-322-9803 or

An organization doing a similar initiative to help students procure school supplies in the Lemont community is the nonprofit Hope and Friendship Foundation.

“This outreach is 15 years running and offers a limited amount of school supplies – whatever we have been able to collect and backpacks, again whatever we have been able to collect – to youth who live in homes that are struggling,” said Terri O’Neill-Borders, founder of the charity.

Most years, thanks to donations, Hope and Friendship Foundation is able to provide school supplies to at least 50 youths. Last year, a donor made it possible to supply about 100 students with backpacks.

Donations of the latter are especially needed, O’Neill-Borders said.

“Because we can set them up with bare essentials of school supplies to start school and then help meet whatever needs arise during school … special project supplies, binders, etc.,” she said. “We have also collected enough to deliver a box of school supplies to each of our schools in Lemont for teachers to use to help a child who does not have what is needed.”

O’Neill-Borders said initiatives such as this one are vital because “financial, emotional or physical limitations of a household should not hinder a child from having the necessities to navigate through school.”

“The school districts offer an extensively long list of items needed, often totaling hundreds of dollars if all the items are purchased,” she said. “This is simply unaffordable for so many homes and my personal goal for Hope and Friendship is to offer every child the ability to arrive on the first day of school with a new backpack containing enough to be prepared to launch into the new school year and not feel defined by not having this.”

A single mom herself for many years, O’Neill-Borders understands the financial hardships associated with paying for school supplies.

“The beginning of school with the school registration cost was such a stressful time for me,” she said. “I hear that from so many of my parents that we hope to help and the appreciation for us scraping together what we can offer to help relieve this stress and financial burden for these households in our community is a huge sigh of relief for the households we are able to help.”

Distribution of supplies will begin soon; items will be taken through the end of August. The Amazon wish list can be found at

Donations can be dropped off at the Hope and Friendship bin inside the Lemont Police Department entrance at 14600 127th St.

Another collaboration between the Hinsdale-based West40 Intermediate Service Center and Morton College is helping put backpacks in the hands of area students across west Cook County.

This year’s annual Backpack Giveback and Resource Fair will be from 10 a.m. to noon Aug. 12 at Morton College, located at 3801 S. Central Ave., Cicero. Attendees should visit the student commons and courtyard, Building B.

Backpacks will include notebooks, crayons, pencils, a ruler and more. There is a limit of one backpack per child. About 30 resource vendors will be on-site.

Coordinators of the event said they have enough backpacks for about 3,000 students and are still taking donations.

“School supplies [are] preferred but we are also still looking for individually wrapped snacks for the families,” said Maria-Elena Agrela., West40 community resource coordinator.

West40 is an intermediate service center that serves 38 school districts and three co-ops in west Cook County by advocating for students, providing a safe school and offering professional learning, licensure and school compliance services.

Want to help with the initiative? Items for the Backpack Giveback can be dropped off at the West40 Hillside office, 4413 W. Roosevelt Road, Suite 104, or arrangements can be made with Agrela by calling 708-990-7975.

Almost 2,000 backpacks were distributed at last year’s Backpack Giveback.

“We don’t have the exact numbers, but West40 believes the number of families in need of assistance has grown due to the addition of families seeking asylum in our area,” Agrela said. “We also had a big increase of families experiencing homelessness this year. Additionally, the price of everything seems up these days and many families may be struggling to keep up. And some of these school supply lists also include items for maintaining the classroom, which go beyond the basic pens, pencils and notebooks.”

For more information about West40, visit