Families enjoyed an afternoon of arts and crafts, games, shopping and food at a community building event that was also a fundraiser for District 65’s PTA Equity Project (PEP), which ensures that PTA resources are distributed equitably between district schools. 

“This is the first time we have ever been able to do an in-person event that had all of our PTAs involved,” said PEP co-chair Fuschia Winston. 

Katie Paquette shows off her windmill at the PTA Equity Project party Saturday. Credit: Adina Keeling

The festival, which ran from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday in the Washington Elementary School Playground boasted food trucks, music, a hair-coloring station, a set of inflatable bowling pins, a raffle, a book swap and tons of art. 

Yet, all of it cost the PTA nothing and much it was free. “We did this event with no money,” said Winston. The community responded with all that was needed when the organizers asked for supplies and volunteers, she said.

In the past, schools have used the funds generated by the event to buy more books and supplies for students, bolster in-school programming, arrange after-school activities, provide groceries for students in need and organize events, Winston said.

Natalie Rey gets her hair sprayed pink. Credit: Adina Keeling

Before 2020, when PEP voted to redistribute resources, each school’s PTA fundraised independently – but there was a huge difference in schools.

“What we saw happening is that we had some schools that were able to fundraise massive amounts of money for students… [while] some schools don’t have a PTA,” said Winston.

Now, money raised by each PTA is pooled and then distributed based on the number of students in the free and reduced lunch program, she explained. 

“We’re a community, we’re collaborating,” said Winston. “We’re trying to disrupt these things that have made our community inequitable, especially for our kids.”

To open up the festival to the entire community, organizers included vendor space and ensured that many activities remained free, Winston said.

Samanaa Manaur (from left), Jessica Rauh and Lakshmi Hoff-Sharna sold handmade goods. Credit: Adina Keeling

PEP Fest also welcomed young entrepreneurs. Dewey Elementary School fifth graders, Samanaa Manaur, Jessica Rauh and Lakshmi Hoff-Sharna sold handmade keychains, bracelets, pencil cases and stuffed animals.

They started their business, called Krafty Kat, during the pandemic, when they began selling items they knitted, Samanaa said. After that, they expanded to include non-knitted products, which they sell at local community events, she added. 

“Seventy-five percent goes to charity and then the rest we use for buying more supplies,” said Samanaa. They have donated to an animal shelter and to health care.

Another set of entrepreneurs, siblings Dominic and Jacqueline Ribeiro, sold lemonade and dog treats. Manning the lemonade stand, Dominic said he helped make the lemonade and enjoyed running the stand. “We had a lot of customers today,” he said.

J.J. Garcia sold tamales from Tamalito, a Rogers Park restaurant. And while the day started off slow, business picked up in the afternoon. “We’ve already had to stock up like three times,” said Garcia.

J.J. and Amalia Garcia sell tamales and snacks. Credit: Adina Keeling

One representative from each PTA ran a stand offering arts and crafts or games. Representing the Bessie Rhodes PTA, Lara Fickels helped children plant wildflower seeds. She said the fest’s turnout was great, and that it’s nice to be back in person after everything being online for so long during the pandemic.

Sarah Petersen from the Willard PTA ran a windmill-making station. Her son, Jonas, helped, which he said was challenging at times, because he had not yet perfected his windmill-making technique, although he did improve throughout the day.

Petersen said the PEP committee worked hard to organize the festival, and children seemed to really enjoy the activities. “It’s great to have an event where all the schools can come together,” she said. “It’s been fun to see friends from different schools throughout the district and to meet new friends.”

Adina Keeling

Adina Keeling is a photojournalist and reporter, covering city news, sustainability, schools, and art. She also investigates mental health systems and environmental injustices in Evanston, and puts together...