Group kicks off back-to-school season for Chicago kids

By Mike Rundle, Senior Photo Editor

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  • Volunteers deliver boxes of school supplies Aug. 8 to Broadway Armory, 5917 N. Broadway.

  • Back 2 School Illinois is the state's largest distributor of free school supplies to low-income families.

  • Volunteer from Mutual Trust Life Insurance Debbie Nealon helps to package supples for B2SI kits Aug. 8 at Broadway Armory Park, 5917 N. Broadway.

  • Matthew Kurtzman, CEO of Back 2 School Illinois, is hoping to continue growing the program. "We did about 35,000 of these kits last year," he said. "We'll do about 40,000 this year."

  • "So much of what we do is about self esteem," said Kurtzman, in reference to the handwritten notes in each kit.

  • Volunteers sit among boxes waiting to be filled with supplies at Broadway Armory Park, 5917 N. Broadway, Aug. 8.

  • Campers from Camp of Dreams, 4421 S. State St., make dreamcatchers at the arts and crafts station Aug. 8.

  • Inspirational banners hang over boxes of school supplies Aug. 8 at Broadway Armory Park, 5917 N. Broadway.

  • Campers from Rauner YMCA, 2700 S. Western Ave., watch on Aug. 8 at Broadway Armory Park as Animal Quest presents a few creatures from their collection.

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Back 2 School Illinois distributed more than 10,000 “Back 2 School” kits in Uptown to Chicago students in low-income households Thursday.

Established in 2007, and after a name change in 2015, B2SI is now the leading distributor of free school supplies in Illinois. Since its inception, the organization has placed kits in the hands of more than 225,000 children.

“We did about 35,000 of these kits last year, we’ll do about 40,000 this year,” said Matthew Kurtzman, CEO of B2SI. “We’re growing every year, but obviously the need is significant.”

Through a partnership with the YMCA, B2SI is able to send the kits to local branches to then be picked up by eligible families.

The kits are funded through annual grants, donations and fundraising efforts; each one features age-appropriate supplies—from coloring books to protractors.

The event Thursday morning at Broadway Armory Park, 5917 N. Broadway, offered interactive science experiments, exotic live animals and arts and crafts for about 400 children from various local summer camps. The activities, along with handwritten notes of inspiration in each kit, aim to get children excited to be back in the classroom.

“So much of what we do is about self esteem and making a kid feel prepared for school … knowing that people are supporting [them] and encouraging [them] to get a good education,” Kurtzman said.

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