Healy’s Westside to host fundraiser Wednesday for school supplies for D97 students

John Lawrence spent 12 years working with at-risk students in the Students Taking Academic Responsibility program at Roosevelt Middle School in River Forest.

So when Franco Valentino recently approached him to help with his not-for-profit Backpacks 4 Class, Lawrence jumped at the opportunity.

“When he came and brought this up to me, it was really the type of thing I could truly embrace,” said Lawrence, now owner and broker for Weichert Realtors – Nickel Group.

Healy’s Westside, 7321 W. Madison St. in Forest Park, will host a fundraiser from 5-8 p.m. Wednesday benefiting Backpacks 4 Class. Admission is $15 per person or $5 per person for those donating a bag of new school supplies.

Proceeds and supplies collected from the fundraiser will benefit 400 Oak Park Elementary District 97 students for the 2014-15 school year.

Though he never had to do so himself as a teacher at Roosevelt, Lawrence acknowledged many teachers historically have dipped into their own wallets to provide classroom supplies and supplies for needy students.

“I worked very closely with the social workers and the administrators in the building, so I wasn’t spending the money out of my own pocket but out of my classroom budget,” the Oak Park and River Forest High School graduate said.

Lawrence said lending the time, talent and treasure of his business to Backpacks 4 Class was a no-brainer.

“There’s so many ways to give back to the community, but I really wanted something in my wheelhouse, something that I believed in,” he said.

Because of the relative appearance of wealth in Oak Park, Lawrence said he was shocked to learn as many as 400 families would need assistance with school supplies.

“We’re spreading awareness. We’re bringing people to the events. We’re making a financial contribution,” he said.

Valentino, who attended Mann School, Julian Middle School and OPRF, started Backpacks 4 Class three years ago after helping with a similar program started by the Chamber of Commerce in Barrington. Backpacks 4 Class is based in Oak Park, but serves students throughout the Chicago area

About 47,000 Illinois students, identified by their enrollment in free and reduced-cost lunch programs, need assistance with their school supplies, he said.

“I’ve got two kids of my own, and I couldn’t imagine them not having pencils to go to school,” Valentino said.

The program has grown from giving away 20 backpacks the first year to the anticipation of giving away up to 1,200 in the coming school year, said Valentino, vice president of The Federal Savings Bank in Chicago. Backpacks 4 Class already has received more than 4,000 requests.

“Once we started doing the research, we found out the numbers in the state of Illinois alone were staggering,” he said. “Unfortunately, I have to turn people away and put them on the waiting list.”

This is the first year Backpacks 4 Class is adopting an entire district, Valentino said.

In addition to fundraisers, including a golf outing in June, Valentino is establishing partnerships with businesses like Staples and Sears, which donate the usual pencils, paper and glue sticks, and Delta Dental, which donates oral hygiene items.

“The same demographic we focus on doesn’t even have toothbrushes. They share with their parents and siblings,” he said.

Valentino and his board members will start filling backpacks around the end of July so they can be delivered to the participating schools the week before classes start.

For more information about Backpacks 4 Class or to make a donation, visit www.backpacks4class.org.

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