Books & Breakfast provides resources to Evanston students in need, looks to address racial disparity in early education


Daily file illustration by Gemma DeCetra

Books & Breakfast has been providing resources to local students since the 1980s.

Olivia Mofus, Reporter

Books & Breakfast has been serving the mouths and minds of school children in the Evanston area since the 1980s.

As a before-school program, the Evanston-based nonprofit provides free breakfast, homework help and emotional care to local elementary and middle school students identified as needing additional support. Students meet with program leaders in any of seven school locations before classes start.

Kyle Hanawalt, the director of operations at Books & Breakfast and the Lincolnwood site director, said the organization originated as a volunteer-based program operating with Evanston/Skokie School District 65 schools before becoming an independent nonprofit in 2013.

“There were teachers and parents recognizing kids were showing up at school hungry, so they started Books & Breakfast … to bring in breakfast to make it available to students,” Hanawalt said. “While they were there, they would say, ‘Hey, does anybody have any homework?’” 

According to the nonprofit’s 2021-22 annual report, 88% of Books & Breakfast students increased their homework completion, 94% had increased social-emotional readiness for the school day and 92% increased their confidence in their abilities as learners.

Hanawalt, who has worked with Books & Breakfast for the past eight years, said he recalled growing up in Evanston as “not a particularly good student,” failing classes and often finding himself in the principal’s office. 

However, he received support from teachers and others that encouraged him to persevere, Hanawalt said.

“I was able to turn around my academic life … because I was still in the game, because I had adults and people around me offering me that support that I really needed,” he said. 

However, Hanawalt said, he recognized the support and opportunities he could access as a young student were not afforded to many students of color in Evanston at the time.

Books & Breakfast went through a “reinvention,” Hanawalt said. Before, the program was open to any student who attended morning sessions. In 2012, the organization became more selective, growing more deliberate with the students it supports and devoting more attention to confronting racial prejudice in early education. 

“It was (a) shift from an informal (organization) to something that was very intentionally focused on addressing the realities of racial inequity in Evanston,” he said.

Students of color composed more than 90% of the students the organization served in the 2021-22 school year, according to its annual report.

Books & Breakfast also partners with Northwestern to train student tutors alongside parents and staff. 

Weinberg sophomore Lydia Boahen began tutoring for Books & Breakfast last Fall Quarter. She said she needed a job and found one at the organization. Its mission to promote racial and educational equity sparked her passion for tutoring, and she decided to stay.

“You’re tutoring low-income students and just really providing a safe space for them,” Boahen said. 

Boahen said she also admires Books & Breakfast’s commitment to regular, long-term support for its students by being available to students every day before school. 

Evanston resident Alison Harper has been volunteering for Books & Breakfast since 2017, first as a grocery shopper and later as a tutor. Like Boahen, she said she felt inspired by the organization’s devotion to educational equity. 

“(Books & Breakfast) continues to grow and learn and grow, and they’re always improving their approaches,” Harper said. “They’re just a wonderful group and every conversation I have … I always come away knowing that I’m part of something very special.”

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