Giving is a universal opportunity. Regardless of your age, profession, religion, income bracket, and background, you have the capacity to create change.
― Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen
Welcome to Chicago North Shore Moms Local Nonprofit Spotlight, where we highlight and introduce a local nonprofit’s inception and mission. First we’d like to extend heartfelt gratitude to our Local Nonprofit Spotlight Sponsor, the lovely, bright and colorful Katie Ford, founder of Flowers By Katie.**
This month we are spotlighting a local in-kind, donations-based nonprofit, Cradles to Crayons Chicago, whose mission is to provide provide children, from birth to age 12, living in low-income or homeless situations, with the essentials they need to thrive. Chicago North Shore Moms had the pleasure of hearing from Jaron Newton, Senior Operations Director about how this nonprofit started in a dresser drawer in Boston, how and when the Chicago chapter began and the ways in which we can all help this mission continue to service those in the most need. Welcome, Jaron!
Hi Jaron! Please introduce yourself. Where did you grow up and where do you live now. Do you have children?
Hi! My name is Jaron Newton, Senior Director of Operations at Cradles to Crayons Chicago. I grew up in Washington, Indiana, and currently live in Lincoln Square, Chicago with my wife and two-year-old daughter.
How long has Cradles to Crayons been established and what is the mission of this nonprofit?
Cradles to Crayons was established in Boston in 2002 by Founder, Lynn Margherio. We opened the Chicago market in 2016. I’ve been with the organization for nine years. The mission is to provide children, from birth to age 12, living in low-income or homeless situations, with the essentials they need to thrive—at home, at school, and at play. We provide these items, free of charge, by connecting and engaging communities. We provide basic essentials like diapers, hygiene supplies, clothing, shoes, winter coats, boots, and school supplies.
What was the original inspiration behind the formation of Cradles to Crayons?
The Cradles to Crayons story began in a bedroom drawer. While founder Lynn Margherio was helping her young niece get dressed, she noticed many pieces of clothing were outgrown. Others were never worn, with price tags still on them.
Lynn thought: “What if these like-new and never-used things could find their way to children who really need them?”
Less than two years later, in 2002, Lynn launched Cradles to Crayons in Boston. Since our inception, we’ve grown in Massachusetts and beyond: Philadelphia in 2006, Chicago in 2016, and two more sites in the planning stages.
Through it all, our mission remains clear: to provide children from birth through age 12 with the everyday essentials they need to thrive — at home, at school, and at play. Our overarching vision — a future free of childhood poverty — inspires our work every day.
By making it convenient to turn compassion into action, our model enables us to connect those in our communities who have with those who are in need. We achieve this by offering meaningful volunteer experiences for people of all ages and backgrounds who want to engage in our work, and by communicating clearly about the impact of their support.
Jaron, how did you personally get involved in Cradles to Crayons? What educational background that helped you attain this position?
While earning my undergraduate degree in Geographic Information Systems at Indiana University, I had a part time job with a non-profit children’s museum. This is where I first found my love for working for a mission-driven organization, surrounded by passionate people.
My first job out of college working as a contractor for the Department of Defense, though rewarding, did not give me the same sense of joy I had learned at the museum. I decided to shift gears, moved to New England and did a year of service with AmeriCorps which cemented the direction for my professional life.
I joined Cradles to Crayons, Boston directly after my year of service in 2012. In 2015 I was chosen as the first employee to open the Chicago office and have enjoyed watching this organization grow in leaps and bounds every year since opening.
In 2019 I earned a master’s degree in public policy from the University of Chicago, which broadened my knowledge and helped me navigate the changes and challenges that the last two year has thrown our way.
What is the most rewarding aspect of Cradles to Crayons?
Just a few weeks ago, we received an emergency request for two siblings, one in fifth grade and the other just one month old, who just arrived from Ecuador. The older brother quickly enrolled at James Monroe Elementary School, in Chicago, where we have a partnership. The school counselor noticed right away that they needed many basic items, sent us a quick request and in less than a day we had clothing, boots and coats ready for them. Because of the huge need in Chicago, we often stay focused on being able to distribute as many items as we can to meet the needs of hundreds of thousands of children. We don’t always get a window into the love and care that our partners provide for each individual child and family, but when we do it fuels our spirits to push even harder.
What’s on the horizon Cradles to Crayons?
Cradles to Crayons is undertaking a strategic planning process for which we plan to finish by the end of this calendar year. Once completed we will have set our full priorities for the next 10 years, setting a number goal based on the full need for each high-level item category that we provide to kids in Cook, Lake and DuPage Counties.
Who would you like to thank for making the formation and success of this nonprofit possible and why?
Three people have my undying gratitude for allowing this mission to exist and thrive. The first is our national founder and CEO, Lynn Margherio, an impressive and intelligent leader with an amazing vision. North Shore’s very own Donna and Jack Greenberg also deserve much of the credit for our success, specifically as the founding volunteers of the Chicago branch who continue to give so much of their time, energy and resources to support our mission.
How do our readers contribute or volunteer their time?
You can always three ways to get involved with Cradles to Crayons.
#1 Donate Goods
A seasonally appropriate coat. A pair of shoes that fit. School supplies and books. Diapers and baby wipes. These are just some of the items a child living in poverty desperately needs. We’re always looking for high-quality new and like-new items you are able to donate — for children newborn through age 12. Help us stock The Giving Factory, either through your direct donations or by organizing a collection drive at home or at work.
Drop-off donations at one of our hub units:
- Buffalo Grove Park and Community Arts Center 225 McHenry Rd., Buffalo Grove
- Kohl Children’s Museum in Glenview
- Highwood Public Library: 102 Highwood Ave.
- And we are also hosting our annual NBC 5 “Bundle Up” collection drive with 60 drop-off locations around the city and suburbs. Visit our website for our most needed items.
We work with families, individuals, community groups, and corporate volunteers in our Giving Factory in Chicago and at community-based events to serve thousands of children every year. Your time is a valuable asset that we invite you to invest in us.
#3 Fund the Cause
The financial support we receive from individuals, families, and companies sustains our work year-round, and we make it easy to donate funds by accepting them in various forms, including stock and dividends. You can donate to our Gear Up for Winter initiative, providing 54,000 Chicagoland kids with warm winter essentials like coats and boots that fit.
Thank you all so much for taking the time to read about our mission and how you can help this holiday season and beyond. Cheers, Jaron.
Thank you to CNSMoms’ Local Nonprofit Sponsor, Katie Ford of Flowers by Katie Ford!
Flowers by Katie Ford was started after Katie experienced a debilitating mental illness. She found peace working with flowers during her darkest days. Now Katie and her team create floral designs for wedding, events, and workshops hoping it brings joy to each occasion. Book Katie for your next special event! Learn more at https://www.flowersbykatieford.com/