Todd Early Learning Center Principal Laurie Klomhaus thought she got a good deal when the Between Friends Food Pantry of Sugar Grove donated 25 bags of clothing, including winter coats, for her students and their families.
But while she was there, pantry co-founder Melisa Taylor told her she should meet one of the volunteers, Joe Kryszak of Maple Park. He might have something more, she said.
Yeah, Kryszak said. How about some books for the kids?
"Well, someone says 'free' and I'm there," Klomhaus said. Her Aurora preschool serves about 300 children in West Aurora District 129, where about 62 percent of students come from low-income families. Her students are those deemed most at risk of not being ready for kindergarten. A few boxes of books would be welcome.
But it was more than she imagined.
Kryszak runs the literacy campaign of the Elburn Lions Club. And he had 2,000 books to give her.
Two-thousand new, Spanish/English books.
The Elburn Lions Club, like all Lions Clubs worldwide, is devoted to raising money primarily to fight vision problems, including blindness. It has also been raising money for another International Lions Club campaign -- to increase literacy.
"We decided to combat illiteracy with kids within the Kaneland school district. If they are needy and they are kids and they are in the Kaneland school district, I am all over it," Kryszak said.
The club raised $2,500 to donate to the Kaneland district last year, he said. "$2,500 is selling a lot of pork chops and hamburgers," he said.
Then a member told him about something her husband found while clearing out a repossessed warehouse in December in North Aurora. They found about 4,000 books.
" 'Joe, we found these books, but most of these are in Spanish. Do you want them?' " the woman asked.
He figured somebody had to need them. But the Kaneland school district doesn't have a lot of Spanish-speaking students, he said. About 11 percent of Kaneland students are Hispanic, and the West Aurora district is about 51.5 percent Hispanic.
The club donated the new and slightly used English-only books to libraries, schools, the food pantry, Conley Outreach and other nonprofit organizations, for Christmas presents for children.
But the Spanish/English books? Kryszak figured Taylor, a Kane County Board member, would know what to do.
"I didn't understand the magnitude of what he was talking about," Taylor says.
She believed the adjacent West Aurora school district would be interested.
Kryszak, who used to work in the paper industry, said the books are high-quality. "The big thing is, they are graphically gorgeous," he said of the printing. They are heavy board books. "Kids can't wear them out," he said.
The district picked up the books from the club's headquarters in early spring. Klomhaus has distributed some books to students to take home, more will go home with students over summer break, and she will give books to students in the fall.
Kryszak, Taylor and the Lions Club were honored Monday by the West Aurora school board.
"This is a great example of a community helping where there is a need," school board President Neal Ormond said.
Kryszak dismissed the compliments. He cited the help he had from teachers, librarians, club members and others who sorted all the books, Taylor's knowledge, the people who discovered the books, even the guys who repeatedly plowed the driveway to the club building in February so volunteers could get in to do the sorting.
"The story is all the people who helped with these books. ... If everybody chips in, good things can happen," he said.