MARGATE — The former Union Avenue School turned Margate Municipal Building played a part in getting more than 700 kids ready for school Sunday morning.
Tools for School is a grassroots effort, in conjunction with the Jewish Federation of Southern New Jersey, in which kids help kids get the school supplies they need for the upcoming year.
When the volunteers finished, a sea of book bags loaded with notebooks, markers, folders, glue sticks, pencil pouches, pencils, pens, erasers, markers, sharpeners, colored pencils, calculators and scissors sat neatly on the playground, ready to be packed into a truck and delivered to schools.
The effort to stuff the backpacks was led by Lilly Checkoff, a soon to be junior at Cherry Hill High School East and the founder and president of Tools for School. Checkoff said some parents may have to choose whether to pay the rent or buy their children school supplies.
“I had to do something to help that, so I started Tools for Schools when I was 13," she said.
Andrew Rowan, of Voorhees, Camden County, will soon be a junior at Moorestown Friends School. He will take over as president next year. Rowan did the marketing and communication for the group and is excited to step up to run it next year.
Tools for Schools has some very good friends, like Anne Koons, a Realtor with Berkshire Hathaway Fox and Roach in Cherry Hill. Koons helped facilitate a connection between St. Anthony Padua Elementary School in Camden and Tools for School. The result is that all 179 students at St. Anthony will have the chance to begin the school year with all the supplies they need.
St. Anthony Principal Mary Burke said she is appreciative of Tools for School.
“This is a really big thing for our kids and our families. We have 98 percent of our school population qualifying for the free or reduced lunch program,” said Burke. “We are a school that is largely Hispanic, and more than half of our families are living below the poverty level. This generous effort makes a very big difference to them.”
Volunteers Ryan Cohen and Carter Mednick, of Margate and Lafayette Hill, Pennsylvania, who attend Plymouth Whitemarsh High School, said they wanted to be a part of the volunteer effort Sunday.
“I really like to be a part of something that might benefit others,” said Mednick. “It feels good to help out.”
Quietly watching the volunteers with a big smile on her face was Nonnie Checkoff, of Philadelphia, Lilly's grandmother.
“I am so proud of Lilly. She kept working and followed through on everything. This is just a beautiful day.”
Lilly Checkoff said they raised nearly $8,000 for the project through emails, social media marketing, dining events and corporate sponsors. They buy all of the supplies from a wholesaler to stretch their money as far as possible. Checkoff said each book bag filled with supplies costs about $11.
To learn more, visit toolsforschool.org.