“I alone cannot change the world,” said the late Mother Teresa, “but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.”
In 2009, Barb McDonald began handing out small bags of personal items to East Peoria High School students; a humble act of kindness that has grown into Moms Who Care, a non-profit organization encompassing 10 regional schools that provides clothing, shoes, hygiene products, snacks and sundry other items that students need.
For casting that stone, McDonald was named the 2017 Distinguished Citizen of the Year by the East Peoria Chamber of Commerce at its 38th annual banquet. Like every winner, McDonald was lured, unaware, to the annual banquet, then surprised with the award.
“The theme was ‘Caring for Others’ and I went to listen to the key speaker, Sister Judith Ann Duvall,” McDonald said of the Jan. 28 event. “When they started describing the winner, it wasn’t until they got to the chocolate chip cookies, that I knew it was me. I was just so surprised, I couldn’t believe it, it was a real honor.”
Homemade cookies are McDonald’s signature gift, which she regularly keeps on hand at EPCHS for the kids. Rarely does a student leave the Moms Who Care room without a cookie.
“Barb noticed that kids were needing things, things that most of us take for granted, like a nice pair of jeans or shoes,” Chamber President Rick Swan said. “That’s a pivotal age, being a teenager, and being looked down on or being made fun of. It’s helped so many students with their self-esteem. “
McDonald’s humble gifts nearly a decade ago became the wellspring for giving, and donations quickly grew to include coats, clothing, formal wear and work clothing. By 2014, Moms Who Care moved into a larger room at the school, and were given a second room for overflow.
Last year, the group became a 401c3 non-profit organization; an umbrella that includes all 10 participating schools, and allows donors the opportunity to file for a charitable tax deduction. The groups accept “whatever teens would like or need”, McDonald said.
Schools in Pekin, Washington, Mackinaw, Lincoln and Creve Coeur are among the participating schools, and follow the same means of accepting donations, though some are intermediate and middle schools, so the needs may differ a bit from the high schools’.
“We had a great start to the year at Parkview School’s Moms Who Care room,” wrote the Parkview Grade School group on a January 18 Facebook post. “Many people have showed support for the program and we are so thankful for that … the school counselor says it has a positive influence on the students.”
When McDonald began operating from the high school, it quickly became obvious that formal wear for homecoming and prom was also high on the list of student needs, and when word got around, the gowns came flowing in.
“Federal Warehouse in East Peoria keeps our prom wear there,” she said. “They donate that space for the kids.”
McDonald said this year the PROMise of Hope organization will also offer East Peoria girls the opportunity to visit the Dream Center in Peoria by bus during school hours.
Monetary donations are also welcome, and, thanks to a 1961 EPCHS graduate, Larry Widdows, Moms Who Care has banked $3,600 in donations from alumni. Touched by the group’s mission, Widdows challenged ‘61 alumni to donate $25 per year.
Other EPCHS alumni groups have joined in, and McDonald said cash donations are generally spent on buying new gym shoes, or pants, shoes and other necessities for students who work.
“We always have an ongoing list of things we need,” she said. “We go through a lot of shoes, a lot of tennis shoes.”
And mechanical pencils, which are top on the list of supplies students reach for. Body spray is another popular item at EPCHS, because students, who aren’t required to shower after gym class, prefer to simply freshen up after physical education.
“Barb will wait until Kohl’s or Target have a sale, and she’ll buy stuff for the kids,” Swan said. “She’s very thrifty and conservative and she’s got a great group of folks that work with her.”
Around 40 people volunteer regularly at EPCHS to help an average of 60 students a week, though 80 students visited the room on Jan. 1, so that number may be on the rise.
“Barb and all the volunteers make it so easy for these kids to feel welcome there,” Swan said. “They don’t leave there feeling like they were treated as needy. They feel like they’ve been given gifts.”
For more information on Moms Who Care, including participating schools, and ways to donate or participate, visit www.momswhocare.net.
— East Peoria’s Citizen of the Year a mom who cares . —