By Patricia Wei
When Bay Area schools shut down due to COVID-19, Palo Alto resident Evelyne Keomian launched an initiative to deliver books and school supplies to low-income local families in packages she has dubbed “edu-kits.”
To create the kits, Keomian reaches out to friends and neighbors to ask for book donations. She compiles the books and puts them in packages alongside worksheets, crayons and a handwritten note that says, “We are your neighbors and we care.” Finally, she puts on a mask and gloves, and delivers the edu-kits to her neighbors.
Keomian also delivered books to a teacher who was reading to her students virtually. Soon, people in her community began talking about the edu-kits and sharing her story with others. She began receiving requests from neighbors asking for her to pick up books they wanted to donate, as well as requests from local families asking for edu-kits for their own children, she told The Daily.
Now, Keomian spends three days a week picking up books and two days a week distributing edu-kits all across the Bay Area, from East Palo Alto to Sunnyvale to San Jose to San Carlos.
The edu-kits are not Keomian’s first foray into philanthropy. She also founded a nonprofit, The Karat School Project, which provides education to impoverished children in her home community on the Ivory Coast. For Keomian, who immigrated from the Ivory Coast to Palo Alto when she was 26, serving both of her communities has a common thread: education, she said.
“Education to me means everything,” Keomian said. “If it wasn’t for education, I wouldn’t be here.”
As a child, Keomian sold cold water to pay for school. After becoming a mother at 16 and moving to Palo Alto in search of a better life, she earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology. In 2017, she founded the KSP, which provides a six-year education program for children in poverty in the Ivory Coast, along with running water and food to the community.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the KSP school has shut down, and families in the Ivory Coast, 42% of which live on less than $2 a day, are struggling. Many still do not have access to running water, and cannot afford to stock up on food to avoid going to the market, Keomian said.
“When people are so hungry, they can’t listen to you telling them to stay home,” Keomian said.
She is fundraising to distribute soap, hand sanitizers and dry food for families in the Ivory Coast. She is also sending worksheets home to KSP students so they can continue learning at home — the same worksheets she includes in her edu-kits.
“Evelyne has a giant heart,” said Sherry Auerbach, a Bay Area resident also involved in nonprofit work. “She is doing all this herself. She is helping her community in the Ivory Coast and in Palo Alto and beyond. Her story is about neighbors helping neighbors.”
Keomian said that her work is “all worth” it when she sees the effect it has on children.
One morning, as she was running along El Camino Real outside of Stanford’s campus, Keomian noticed the sidewalks were lined with an unusually large number of trailers. She approached one of the mothers in the trailer, asking if she could bring books to her children. She returned two hours later with edu-kits, food and diapers for mothers living in the trailers. One of her favorite moments was seeing a mother’s 3-year-old daughter’s smile as she held a copy of “The Very Hungry Caterpillar,” she said.
“Seeing her smile from ear to ear over a book and a crayon is what keeps me going,” Keomian said. “I could be damn tired, but when I see the effect on these children, that gets me plugged right back in. I’m going to distribute more edu-kits because it is making a difference.”
“I want people to understand that philanthropy is what you do out of the overflow of your heart, not out of the overflow of your wallet,” Keomian added. “We’re not here today because someone had a lot of money that was sitting around and didn’t know what to do with it. We’re here because of people who had nothing but a big idea and a big drive in their hearts.”