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Bears Star Kyle Long Boosts St. Malachy School, Starr Park Across Street

By Alex Nitkin | May 11, 2015 5:25am
 A lot fewer students at St. Malachy Elementary School will be going home hungry on the weekends, thanks in part to Chicago Bears Pro-Bowl offensive lineman Kyle Long.
St. Malachy Donation
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NEAR WEST SIDE — A lot fewer students at St. Malachy Elementary School will be going home hungry on the weekends, thanks in part to Chicago Bears Pro-Bowl offensive lineman Kyle Long.

Long’s Dreambuilders foundation announced a $22,000 donation alongside United Healthcare last week, pumping up the school’s food giveaway program and contributing to a renovation project planned for the adjacent Starr Park.

The donation has already more than doubled the local reach of Blessings in a Backpack, a charity that hands out bags of healthy food at the end of each school week.

“Parents have strained budgets, and a lot of times on weekends they just don’t know where the meals are going to come from,” said Bridgit Miller, principal of St. Malachy, a Catholic school at 2252 W. Washington Blvd. on the Near West Side. “It’s been really helpful around here to supplement their food budget, so they can make their dollar stretch a little further.”

Thanks to the donation, all 255 of the school’s students — 97 percent of whom qualify for free or reduced lunch — have received bags of food every Thursday since January.

Dreambuilders and United Healthcare also contributed $10,000 toward a planned $700,000 renovation to Starr Park, a city-block-sized green space across the street from St. Malachy that includes a small playground. The renovation will include “new playground equipment, walking paths, site lighting, landscape improvements and a water-spray feature,” according to a press release.

For nearby residents like Evelyn Skinner, who brings her twin 5-year-old daughters to play in the park three times a week, the renovation is long overdue.

“We’re really hoping for more of a variety of things for the kids to do here, and some benches for parents to sit on,” Skinner said. She’s also excited for new lights, since the park can attract “some undesirables” later in the day. The park has a serious need for better security and sanitation, Skinner said, pointing to empty liquor bottles scattered around her children.

St. Malachy also hosts a six-week summer program in Starr Park, and Miller said leveling out the uneven field will make it easier for activities like lacrosse and Capture the Flag.

“The renovation at Starr Park will give the students at St. Malachy a fun, new place to play and stay active,” Long said last week at an event announcing the donation. “And the food we give the kids each Friday through Blessings in a Backpack will make sure they get the nutrition they need when they are not in school.”

Long stayed after the event to speak with some of the school’s students, which Miller said left a lasting impact all on its own.

“It really is exciting for the kids to have Kyle come and spend some time with them, and for him to be willing to share his resources in a way that really builds them up,” Miller said. “He said he’d come back and have a continuing relationship with them.

"We’re really grateful for these organizations to help make that relationship happen.”

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