The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

December 22, 2013

Partners add to education

Local businesses help kids from behind the scenes

The Commercial-News

---- — Last month, a business owner and family friend of Kelly Truex, principal of Garfield Elementary School, called her and asked what her students needed.

With the temperatures beginning to drop, the students at the school on North Gilbert Street needed to be able to stay warm.

Truex went shopping with the business owner, who wished to remain anonymous, and bought 60 coats, hats, gloves and pairs of shoes. It was enough to outfit 10 children — five boys and five girls — in each grade level at the school.

“It is remarkable,” Truex said of the donation.

Another local business owner, Terry Jackson of Better Better Detailers on East Main Street, and shop supervisor James Smith bought 30 coats — all with matching hats and gloves — for Meade Park Elementary School students using proceeds from Jackson’s barbecue sales held regularly at the auto detailing shop.

Jackson’s children are all grown, but still he recognized a need in the community and wanted to help as many children as he could.

“I want to help the kids out ... as many as I can,” he said. “My plan is to go through every school to help.

“Those kids need help,” he continued. “I’m going to reach out to those kids because they’re our future.”

Meade Park Principal Mendy Spesard said Jackson and Smith’s donation of coats, hats and gloves came as a “complete and utter surprise.”

“We got them last month when the weather started to turn,” she said. “We give them away on an as-needed basis.

“Some of our children don’t have nice coats,” she added. “The zippers might not zip up anymore or the coat is missing buttons.”

When a child receives one of the new coats, “their face just lights up like it’s Christmas.”

In addition, Spesard noted that Jackson also has “dropped off two very large boxes of school supplies.”

The good deeds haven’t gone unnoticed.

“The kids made me some cards. It was heart touching,” Jackson said.

“They’re really good guys,” Spesard said. “We’re blessed to have them.”

The coat donations from Jackson, Smith and the anonymous business owner are just a couple of the random acts of kindness that have benefited various schools in the Danville district.

Many local businesses participate in District 118’s Partners in Education.

“We have ongoing relationships with many local businesses. Every school has a partner,” said Greg Lazzell, the district’s food service director who oversees Partners in Education.

“We’re not looking for them to only give us things or to donate. Some places don’t donate material things. Sometimes we just have employees at businesses donate their time. We have lots of businesses that do that,” he said. “We’re not looking for physical goods. We’re looking for mentoring or time spent reading to the children.

“We don’t want to bombard the businesses,” he said. “Often times they reach out to us, like Better Better Detailers.

“Jocko’s is one of the longest running partnerships,” Lazzell said, guessing that it’s been close to 25 years.

Every year, Jocko’s Pizza provides a ham and bagged fruit for each of the Christmas food baskets that are prepared for about a dozen of Edison Elementary School’s neediest families.

In Edison’s basement on Wednesday, teachers, Danville firefighters and some of Jocko’s employees formed an assembly line and quickly went to work filling large boxes with food and other items for this year’s 14 families.

“Edison does a canned food drive, the staff donates money and they buy perishables and toiletries, and Jocko’s donates the hams,” Lazzell said.

The food baskets are a more than 20-year tradition at the school, with the grade level that collects the most canned goods receiving a pizza party from Jocko’s. The second-graders won the pizza party this year.

“One little second-grade girl brought in five cases of canned goods,” said second-grade teacher Carrie Waterman, who has been involved with the Christmas food baskets for 20 years.

“The firefighters give a donation every year and they deliver the food baskets,” she said. “It’s quite a lot. It’s two or three boxes of food per family.

“There are families that need a little extra assistance,” Waterman added. “A lot of people think this is a worthwhile cause.”

In addition to the food baskets, Jocko’s provides incentives for Edison’s Accelerated Reader program.

“They pick a couple of fifth-graders to work a shift at the restaurant,” Lazzell said. “The staff also works a shift to raise funds.”

Some of the other business partners include Back Door Pizza that works with the Kenneth D. Bailey Academy; First Financial awards a $1,000 scholarship to a Garfield School fifth-grader every year; Southwest Elementary students go over to Gardenview Manor Nursing Home to visit and the nursing home provides emergency shelter for the students; Aqua Illinois helps out Cannon School; and Sears’ employees buy gifts for Meade Park School families.

Spesard said, “There are 25 presents here right now from Sears. Sears adopts a family, and we give them their sizes. Many of the employees buy gifts for the whole family.”

Fire Station 4 also is a partner with Meade Park.

“The school will bring them cookie trays, and they’ll bring out their pumper truck for PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports),” Lazzell said.

“McDonald’s and the Witzels are amazing to the district,” he said. “They support every single one of our schools.

“Quaker also has been a huge partner and donates granola bars to Cannon School, and Carle Clinic donates the money to buy fresh fruits and vegetables at Northeast School,” he added.

“Wal-Mart employees volunteer their time in the classrooms at East Park and provide incentive items for reading,” he said. “Illini Skateland arranges skating nights for the schools.

“The Dairy Queen on Main Street twice a year provides treats for Cannon School, and Family Dollar donates toys to Cannon,” Lazzell said.

“The Second Church of Christ mentors, provides treats for staff, and donates coats, hats and gloves for East Park,” he said.

Lazzell said he would like to find a business partner for Danville High School.

“We don’t have any formal partners for the high school other than Vermilion Advantage,” he said.

Lazzell said the Partners in Education program is a win-win for the district as well as the businesses.

“The businesses provide us with time, goods and services, and in turn we hope to provide them with marketing and exposure by parents and staff frequenting their businesses,” he said.

“Most of all, they’re furthering children’s education,” he said.