Joanne Spitz was meeting with the Batavia Bicycle Commission at its bike rodeo last fall when someone mentioned a Batavia woman and two of her children rode bicycles to school every day from the Lazarus House homeless shelter in St. Charles. It was a minimum of five miles one way.
"I did not know there were homeless people in Batavia," Spitz said. The fact some of them were children horrified her.
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Spitz would come to learn it's not just a couple of kids who are homeless. This week there are 52 students from about 25 families living in temporary housing, be it shelters, cars, motels or friends' residences.
"There must be something we can do about it," Spitz said to her friend, Melinda Kintz.
And that is how CHIP IN Batavia was born.
Community Helpers Impacting People In Need aims to meet needs -- quickly and minus the red tape -- of homeless students. Kintz and Spitz turned to Lisa Palese, District 101's student services director and liaison to the homeless, to figure out a way.
Palese is in charge of making sure homeless families know their legal rights when it comes to the education of their children. Kids can continue to attend their home district even if they are living in another town because they don't have a permanent residence.
Palese educates district employees, including social workers and school secretaries, on how to recognize signs a student might be homeless.
CHIP IN has gotten groups such as the Batavia Woman's Club, the Rotary Club and the Kiwanis to adopt a school.
"The key to success is having these great liaisons, ready and willing to take care of (a request) when it comes up," Spitz said.
School secretaries, social workers, counselors and administrators tell Palese what a particular child might need. Palese vets the request (at minimum, students must be eligible for free and reduced-price school lunches) and passes it on to CHIP IN.
A Rotolo Middle School teacher asked for six art sketchbooks. Some teachers noticed students were coming to school hungry and asked for a stash of snacks they could give to the kids. Office staff members have noticed students coming without snow boots.
A sketchbook for art class doesn't seem like much. But if a parent is struggling to supply food and shelter, even that expense can be too much, let alone supplying a laptop computer for a high school student. That may lead them to not send their children to school, Palese said.
Parents might not allow their kids to try out for a sports team or join a club because they know they can't afford required equipment, Palese said. CHIP IN bought shoes for several youths to play on a school team.
CHIP IN has helped families pay to get cars repaired and to get possessions out of storage. The group has donated household goods, with Spitz recalling the joy of a child who had never owned a pillow. Kintz organized a drive to collect dinnerware stamps from Jewel patrons, and now the group has enough of the dishware to outfit several families this year.
It has also begun helping about 200 students who live in two large apartment complexes that house low-income families: Lorlyn Apartments, and the community resource center for Batavia Apartments, a Franciscan Ministries-run complex that has subsidized housing. It is seeking donations of supplies and more volunteer tutors.
CHIP IN is seeking registration as an IRS 501(c)(3) charity. In the meantime, its finances are handled by the Batavia Foundation for Educational Excellence, a registered charity.
Organizers can be contacted at CHIP IN, P.O. Box 1003, Batavia, 60510, or via email at email@example.com. It maintains a list of wanted items on its website, chipinbatavia.org. Current needs include calculators required for middle and high school students, and money for the snacks.
"It's basic needs so that these kids can come to school," Palese said.
The group is having a "Pasta Abbundanza" fundraiser from 4 to 10 p.m. March 14 at O'Sole Mio restaurant, 27 N. River St., Batavia. Tickets are $15 a person, $10 for kids 12 and younger. Locations to buy tickets will be announced on the website and Facebook page next week.