ANDERSONVILLE — Even though Michael Roper doesn't have children of his own, he has found an unconventional way to make a difference in thousands of local kids' lives through a charity program he founded that goes hand-in-hand with his business — selling beer.
"This is our way of getting involved with kids. It gives me a little connection with the neighborhood kids that I wouldn't normally get," said Roper, the owner of Hopleaf Bar, 5148 N. Clark St.
Roper came up with Kegs 4 Kids about 10 years ago when he noticed an influx of neighborhood groups asking for donations for everything: "Breast Cancer, AIDS, refugees ... things that are big issues and great causes."
"But you can't help that feeling of 'What's my $50 do to fight breast cancer?' I started thinking 'What if i could focus all the money on something in the neighborhood?' Be involved and see some results," Roper said.
When parents from Helen C. Peirce School of International Studies, at 1423 W. Bryn Mawr Ave., visited Hopleaf in desperate need of "a lot of money," the brainstorming began for the idea that would eventually grow into the Keg 4 Kids program. Over the next decade, the idea would evolve, but follow a familiar pattern: Get someone to donate beer, sell the beer, give all the money to the school.
The program has drawn many side-eyes, but Roper ensures "you drink the beer, kids get the money. Every penny goes to the school, so you can feel good about buying alcohol."
The program has been called a "godsend" by members of Friends of Peirce, a non-profit organization committed to helping Peirce "maximize the potential of its students to achieve their dreams by experiencing a world class primary education within the Chicago Public School system. The group along with the Peirce Local School Council "provides parent-led fundraising capabilities," according to its website.
Last year, the group raised nearly $73,000 for the school through events like Midsommarfest, Fiesta de Arte and a pledge drive. Kegs 4 Kids raised about $40,000 of the total, according to the website.
Direct benefits of the Friends of Pierce donations included the "May I have this Dance" program, Google Chromebooks, art assemblies, sports equipment and uniforms, garden supplies, the Debate Team, Girls on the Run, field trip stipends and a new sound system, Peirce Principal Lorianne Zaimi said.
"Kegs for Kids raises additional funds that go to supplement current programming, given challenging budget times, these funds are essential in supporting quality programs such as technology integration, arts programs, after school programs and enrichment activities to support classroom programs," Zaimi said.
According to the Friends of Peirce President Dave Tilson, over the years Roper and Friends of Peirce have held silent auctions, beer-tasting events at the old Metropolis roasting plant, raffles, brunches at Hopleaf and "an annual event at Hopleaf that brings together the Edgewater, Peirce" and craft beer community for an afternoon of beer tasting.
"In many ways, the Kegs for Kids event was a gamechanger for us to raise funds for Peirce. Most of the funds from this event were raised from sources outside the school — families, parents, teachers, administrators, etc. — which really made a difference for us to have other events that catered to that audience. We couldn't do what we do without this program," he said.
"Michael and [his wife] Louise really embrace the concept that without strong neighborhood schools and programs within and around them, Chicago communities are really at a disadvantage for growth and economic development opportunities. We agree," Tilson said.
The latest arm of the Kids 4 Kids program is the "pour of the week," which allows buyers to buy a keg that will be served by the glass with all proceeds going toward the school. Roper developed the concept to keep the donations flowing all year round and because it was easier than trying to get businesses to donate tons of kegs for a big event. So far, he's got donated kegs lined up until July, he said.
"This way we have a constant stream [of donations,] instead of a bunch in one day, and we can channel it towards bigger or smaller projects at the school," Roper said.
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