Generous Partners Support Students Across Chicago Neighborhoods
CHICAGO – Chicago Public Schools and Children First Fund (CFF) surprised students across the District this week with coats, gifts, and fun-filled events to celebrate the holiday season in school communities. Students shared their wish lists in letters to `CPS Santas,’ and Santa – with a little help from generous partners across Chicago – delivered.
From Pop-It fidget toys to LOL dolls, remote control cars to writing desks, thousands of hand-selected personalized gifts went home with students. Many students received gift cards, warm winter coats, hats, gloves, and other cold-weather essentials. At several schools, every family received turkeys or holiday meals. In all, the generosity of our partners impacted more than 10 CPS schools, bringing holiday cheer to nearly 3,000 students.
In his first holiday season at the helm of CPS, CEO Pedro Martinez joined in on the gift-giving Thursday at Benjamin E. Mays Elementary in Englewood.
“This is what the season is all about, and it’s overwhelming to see the tremendous response to our CPS families’ needs,” said CEO Martinez. “We are grateful to all the generous companies and partners who rallied to support our students and their families this holiday season. I know how much it means to them.”
More than 20 organizations and individuals contributed to make this holiday season our most generous ever. Amazon, Walmart, and the Foles Believe Foundation each made significant donations to CFF’s holiday Compassion Fund, which supports students and families when they need it most –– for things like winter essentials, holidays, and beyond. Partners for gifts, coats, food, and other contributions included Accelerated Growth, Aldi, Aramark, Cooney and Conway, IMC Foundation, the International We Love You Foundation, Latham & Watkins, Lorelei Partners, Mars, Morgan Stanley, Morningstar, Northwestern Medicine, Showpad, and the Social Conscience Project. In addition, many generous individuals supported the holiday efforts.
Partners supported CPS by working with Children First Fund, the Chicago Public Schools foundation, to give and deliver these gifts, holiday treats, and winter essentials. CFF’s Compassion Fund provided additional resources to further extend our partners’ generosity and reach more school communities.
The events, organized by teacher or classroom to comply with COVID-19 protocols, with spirited celebrations including Mays Elementary’s “Shimmer and Sparkle” day. For select images from these events and others, see here.
The holiday festivities started nearly a month ago, with coats, winter gear, and Thanksgiving turkeys going to students at Nash Elementary, then moved into high gear the week of December 13th, and will continue through early January, when the students of Spry Elementary will celebrate Three Kings’ Day with the help of more of our partners.
“After two tumultuous, challenging years, we wanted this holiday season to bring joyful memories and experiences to CPS students and school communities,” said Sadie Stockdale Jefferson, Executive Director of Children First Fund, “and, thanks to our partners’ generosity, we’ve gotten to see thousands of smiling eyes above carefully-masked faces.”
In unique circumstances, our community has responded with extraordinary support. Throughout this tumultuous year, partners and supporters have rallied around CPS students. As part of CFF’s broader work on behalf of Chicago Public Schools, our Compassion Fund has raised over $11M for COVID-19 Crisis Response, plus millions more from in-kind donations. Resources contributed to the Compassion Fund provide direct emergency relief for schools and families.
An outpouring of generosity
An immense network has united in partnership, helping ensure CPS families are safe and supported – and that students are equipped to succeed despite changes to their learning environment. Since January 2020, Children First Fund has received support from over 1,200 individual and organizational donors. Donations reflect the diversity of our community of supporters, with contributions ranging from $5 to over $1M.
Support that extends beyond the classroom
Students and families have long looked to CPS for support that extends beyond the classroom, particularly in times of crisis. That’s apparent this year more than ever. Amidst skyrocketing unemployment and a daunting public health emergency, CPS students have shouldered immense personal and family responsibilities – all while pursuing their own educations and adapting to dramatic changes in their learning environments.
Each day, Chicago’s dedicated school leaders and educators help their school communities process and deal with the pandemic’s sweeping impact. Alongside COVID-19, students have confronted numerous other crises, including increased national awareness about racial violence, civil disobedience, and waves of civic unrest. Innovative and empathetic as ever, Chicago’s educators offer their communities practical, mental, and emotional support.
To meet acute, unpredictable needs with responsive, flexible funding, Children First Fund has collaborated with CPS principals throughout the pandemic to equitably distribute resources to hundreds of CPS schools. Established relationships with principals paved the way for school leaders to request support from the Compassion Fund throughout the crisis.
Laura Lemone, EdD and Chief of Schools for CPS’ Network 14, says she “appreciates the simplicity of the process” created for the Compassion Fund’s COVID-19 Response efforts, which she describes as a “godsend” for families in Network 14 experiencing “sudden — and, unfortunately, often multiple — challenges” throughout the extended crisis. She underscores the importance of leveraging school leaders’ strong and trusting relationships with families in their communities: “when hardship comes, the schools know and try to quickly connect the family” with the resources they need. And turnaround time is crucial, as families’ needs and situations can shift rapidly.
“We are very quickly able to gather referrals from schools and approve and distribute resources quickly,” continues Lemone. “A quick response of flexible aid can ensure families have groceries that week or their utilities stay on.”
Emergency relief: widespread and individualized
With emergency relief that is both widespread and individualized, the Compassion Fund aims to help meet and ease the divergent, unpredictable challenges of our present moment. Distribution has prioritized support that empowers families to address their most pressing needs and meeting these needs in a responsive, equitable manner requires constant collaboration with school communities and their leaders. All along the way, it’s been resourced by an outpouring of generosity from our community of friends and supporters.
“The staff is going to be so excited and you better believe I will pull out all the stops. It is wonderful to know that someone is truly listening. In my 30 years of doing this work, this feels so refreshing and gives me something to look forward to as each new day presents its challenges. You guys are truly family.”
Principal Freeney, Kellman Corporate School, sharing about a staff appreciation grant to boost morale for essential workers
CFF Compassion Fund support for CPS students during 2020
Through donations to the Compassion Fund, Children First Fund has been able to equitably distribute resources directly to hundreds of CPS school communities, including over 12,000 technology devices, 30,000 culturally relevant books, and 4,500 pre-K-2nd literacy kits. District-wide investments in Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) aim to help students process trauma and grief. Our partners’ support has brought Rainbows’ “Silver Linings” program into over 300 schools and trained 750+ educators, with additional trainings scheduled for early in 2021.
“Receiving this Chromebook will truly help my child to finish his 8th-grade year strong! I am very happy and pleased that Chicago Public Schools was able to make this happen.”
Parent, Ellington Elementary School
Aid has reached families and communities as well, with emergency financial relief of $100-$500 for over 1,000 families facing extenuating circumstances and microgrants given to 350 graduates from the Class of 2020 to ease their post-secondary transitions.
Back-to-School: Equipping Students for Remote Learning
In preparation for the school year, our community of supporters united to equip CPS school communities for a year unlike any other. CFF equitably distributed resources, ensuring our students and schools had the resources to meet this historic moment.
Partners working with CFF through the Compassion Fund’s Back-to-School initiative supported CPS students in novel ways. They helped furnish dedicated home learning spaces with desks, tables, lamps, and other essentials. In addition to CPS’ massive distribution of learning technology, hundreds of students received new headphones to help them focus and engage while learning at home.
The monumental Chicago Connected effort endeavors to empower over 100,000 of our neighbors with internet access. Partner initiatives have supported Child Learning Hubs for families of essential workers. Through aid to the District’s meal distribution efforts, our supporters have provided tens of millions of meals for Chicago families.
Tangible donations like these have been critically important. But it is impossible to overstate the power of intangible support from our community. CPS students, teachers, and staff know that their neighbors and their city is supporting them through this difficult time. We are truly grateful to the companies, foundations, institutions, and individuals who have rallied together to lift up our school communities.
Bringing practical support and encouragement to CPS school communities
During the pandemic, the Compassion Fund has helped bring practical support and encouragement to thousands of students and families across our city. Flexible emergency relief has empowered CPS schools and principals to the heightened needs of their student body–fostering community, boosting morale, and helping students continue learning. And, although they’ve often been concealed behind face masks (including in-kind donations of more than 2.5 million cloth face coverings from CFF partners), we’ve seen an inspiring growth in another essential resource: smiles.
What is the CFF Compassion Fund?
The Compassion Fund supports CPS students by allowing Children First Fund to act immediately when CPS families need us the most. When the COVID-19 pandemic forced schools to move to remote learning, our community responded with an outpouring of generosity. Record numbers of support went to students for computers and headphones connectivity, remote work desks and early reading kits, multicultural books, meal distribution and food delivery, SEL wrap-around services, direct family relief and more.
Moving forward, immense needs persist in our school communities. Whether students move to in-person learning or remain in remote learning, the pandemic continues to have a pronounced impact on the life circumstances and educational needs of our students. While exacerbated by the current public health crisis, most of the needs addressed by the Compassion Fund existed long before the pandemic.
We’ve seen this past year how rapidly our circumstances can shift. In an unpredictable environment, flexibility is crucial for rapid responses to emergent needs. Through our partners continued investments in the Compassion Fund, CFF is positioned to provide precisely this kind of support to Chicago’s students.
To those in the Chicagoland area and beyond who have given with such enthusiasm and compassion, thank you for joining us! Your continued partnership is vital to addressing systemic, local, and individual issues and fulfilling CPS’ Mission, providing a high-quality public education for every child, in every neighborhood, that prepares each for success in college, career, and civic life.
Hundreds of people and organizations joined our holiday-giving campaign to support Chicago’s students.
In November of 2019, Children First Fund introduced a new holiday tradition called CPS Santas: Gifts That Make a Difference. The campaign, which called on people, businesses, and organizations across Chicago to become CPS Santas, brought together both new and longtime CPS supporters to provide gifts and support that directly impacted Chicago Public School students over the holiday season.
CPS Santas offered four giving options, including both in-kind and monetary donation options for both groups and individuals. Each of those giving options was designed to provide direct supports to CPS students in need.
The Compassion Fund option raised money to support CPS families experiencing deaths or other crises, the Warm Winter Coats option collected winter items for students in need, the Multicultural Books option collected books and funding for books that highlight diverse characters and experiences for classroom libraries, and the Toys for the Holidays option asked teams and offices to buy gifts for students who might not otherwise receive any.
Word of the CPS Santas campaign spread quickly on social media thanks to donors who proudly posted pictures of their CPS Santa hats, sent to every donor who contributed $25 or more, which included the vast majority of donors.
CFF supporters required little convincing to get engaged. In just the first two weeks of the campaign, more than 100 donors, including both groups and individuals, had made contributions to one or more of the four giving options. By the campaign’s end on December 31, that number more than doubled.
In addition to CPS Santas’ four giving options, Children First Fund also celebrated Giving Tuesday on December 3 by encouraging donors to support CPS teacher fundraising projects through DonorsChoose. Thanks to an anonymous supporter who matched every donation made to CPS donation pages that day, our supporters raised more than $130,000, fully funding 214 separate CPS teacher projects in a single day.
Among the hundreds of donors who participated in CPS Santas this year were a number of office teams and community organizations who pooled their resources to make larger gifts to CPS classrooms.
A team at Morgan Stanley provided personalized gifts for every student in the 2nd grade at Langford Elementary.
A team at Hilton Worldwide provided winter clothing items for students at Dett Elementary.
Chicago architecture firm Lamar Johnson Collaborative provided personalized gifts and multicultural books for the entire kindergarten at Langford Elementary.
Glamd4Good, BlackEdge Capital, and The Wing all contributed to a coat drive organized by our partners at Chicago Beyond to collect winter clothing items for students at Daley Elementary.
A team at Mars Global provided personalized gifts for the 1st grade at DuBois Elementary.
The Church of the Good Shephard in Hyde Park collected winter clothing items for students at Tilden High School.
A team at Lurie Children’s Hospital provided personalized gifts for a cluster classroom of autistic and non-verbal students at Nash Elementary.
Home Depot donated $100,000 worth of furniture to five schools in need.
Of course, teams and individuals within CPS participated as well, including the Talent team, who provided personalized gifts for the 1st grade at Neil Elementary, and the Grant Funded Programs team, who provided 115 $25 Target gift cards for every student at two CPS alternative schools.
But numbers only tell part of the story. The real impact is best expressed by the people affected by these generous donations.
Dr. Heather Hampton, the principal at Dett, invoked one of the greats to help express her gratitude toward her donor: “Maya Angelou said ‘people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.’ You really made our students feel cared for and loved. Thank you!”
“We are so appreciative of the generous donations,” said Kamilah Hampton, principal at Daley. “My kids are extremely appreciative of the support.”
“[You provided] a magical Christmas for my students at Nash,” principal Marcie Byrd told her donors. “They received many wonderful gifts, and you blessed many children who may not have otherwise received any gifts this Christmas.”
“I wish you could see the joy on their faces,” said DuBois principal Vanessa Williams-Johnson. “Your kindness if what the world needs more of.”
These sentiments express just how vital every donation made through CPS Santas was. Each and every one of them directly affected students, either by providing crucial supports or gifts to lift their spirits over the holidays. These were gifts that truly made a difference.
To the hundreds of people who became CPS Santas this year, we thank you. Each of you should feel immense pride in the impact you made. We can’t wait to work with all of you and many more new CPS Santas next year to provide more gifts, more books, more coats, hats, gloves, and scarves, and more support to more students across the district.
From all of us at CFF to every CPS Santa across Chicago, thank you!