Some homeless people’s lives may be a little bit better because of a project organized earlier this month by the Riverside-Brookfield High School Parent Teacher Organization.

On Jan. 16, Martin Luther King Day, a few members of the RBHS PTO and some students assembled and then donated about 125 “survival kits” to two local agencies that work with the homeless and the police departments in Brookfield, North Riverside and Riverside.

Each survival kit includes gloves, hats, socks, hand wipes, small bottles of water and small non-perishable food items like granola bars.

The woman behind the survival kits is Christine Kawiecki, of Riverside, a PTO member. She learned that Martin Luther King Day is also a national day of service and was impressed that her niece’s elementary school in Evanston was handing out survival kits to the homeless.

“I shamelessly stole the idea,” Kawiecki said.

She initially tried to do it last year but started too late. She took her idea to the PTO at one of the group’s first meetings of the school year and got the organization to agree to sponsor the project.

First National Bank of Brookfield and the Brookfield Chamber of Commerce contributed the money to allow Kawiecki to buy drawstring bags. Kawiecki, helped by fellow PTO members Michelle Udelson and Michelle Van Nice, next went out collecting the items to be put in the bags.

They put donation boxes at various locations, including RBHS and other local schools, the Riverside and Brookfield public libraries and at North Riverside Village Commons.

“The yield from the boxes wasn’t great, but I think did a good job of creating awareness,” Kawiecki said.

They also accepted online cash donations and collected more than $600. They used that money to purchase basic survival items that were not donated.

On Martin Luther King Day, a day off from school, about 20 RBHS students got up early and went to the high school at 8 a.m. to assemble the survival kits. When they were finished, they donated the kits to BEDS Plus in LaGrange and Housing Forward in Maywood. They also gave 10 kits each to the local police departments.

In addition to providing daytime services for the homeless at their offices in LaGrange, BEDS Plus operates a network of emergency overnight shelters from October through mid-May in Lyons Township. 

St. Barbara Parish in Brookfield typically serves as one of the shelter locations, but the space remains offline as the parish completes repairs related to flooding in the shelter space last October.

Riverside Police Chief Tom Weitzel said that his officers will carry the kits in their squad cars and if they encounter a homeless person they will give that person a kit.

“What an outstanding, compassionate service provided by the Riverside-Brookfield High School PTO,” Weitzel said. “My officers will give these kits to people who truly need them. I thank Mrs. Kawiecki for this precious gift. She’s truly giving back to the community, and we’re thankful she offered us an opportunity to participate in the project.”

Kawiecki said that while she rarely sees homeless people in Riverside, she doesn’t have to go far to encounter people living on the street.

She knows that the cold winter weather makes it particularly tough on the homeless and thought that the people would be more motivated to give during the holiday season. 

“Particularly at this time of year it felt great to be able to give back to the community,” Kawiecki said.