Keeping East St. Louis-area kids cool and fed this summer started with urgent phone calls for help in the dead of winter.
Jones Park summer camp director Donna Ferrel kicked a fundraising effort into high gear six months ago once it became clear a money shortage was an imminent reality.
With little help from the budget-crunched state, community volunteers now fill in for former staff members and $15,000 in donated money and supplies are keeping the summer camp and splash pad afloat at the Kenneth Hall Community Center.
“This is something the community looks forward to every year and those kids are really just enjoying it,” East St. Louis Park District executive director Irma Golliday said.
The camp’s splash pad is the only water feature in the area for kids to go to since the city’s 1950s-era Lincoln Park Pool closed more than five years ago after a state grant for repairs never came through.
So Monday through Friday this summer, breakfast, lunch, arts, crafts and movies are a boon for many of the 100 or so campers who also get to escape the summer’s blazing temps. The number of participants is up 50 percent from last year which was comparatively cooler, Golliday said.
Keeping the lights and air conditioning on and the splash pad’s water clean costs about $1,000 per month and that tab is covered by the park district, Golliday said. The water is donated by Illinois American Water.
But simple things like paper plates and toilet paper are covered by donations. And bottled water and some produce from volunteers’ gardens are also trickling in.
The center and camp got a boost two years ago from a one-time United Way grant which paid about 20 counselors and maintenance workers $9 to $12 an hour, but that grant wasn’t received again.
East St. Louis District 189-area kids will start school in about a month, but for now “they have a good, safe, cool place to go,” Golliday said.
Steve Nagy: 618-239-2470