Children eagerly supported the war efforts on the Home Front. They were particularly suited to some tasks, such as gathering scrap material, helping tend victory gardens, and running messages for Community Service aides. Local public schools served as collection points for smaller scrap items such as cold cream jars and plastics. Schools and scouting groups competed to gather the most scrap, especially paper. Students also gathered milk weed floss from the forest preserve to be used as flotation material for life preservers and other military supplies. Raising money for the war also became a competitive activity. Elementary age children could not generally afford war bonds, which ranged from $25 to $10,000, so they bought 10¢ and 25¢ defense stamps and pasted them in albums. In 1944, New Trier High School students raised $400,000, enough to buy a B-29 “Superfortress” bomber. They also organized air raid squads and first aid teams, and held blood drives and clothing drives. A New Trier publication, That’s Life, provided school news to classmates who were serving in the military. Teens and older children often stepped into roles formerly filled by adults. In 1943, North Shore Country Day students had to pitch in with maintenance tasks because half of the janitors had gone to war. These activities enabled children to support the war effort and gave them a sense of pride in contributing to the Allied victory.
The vast scope of America’s war efforts meant that shortages were a way of life and nothing could go to waste. The government controlled both consumption and prices by rationing basic commodities like sugar, meat and gasoline. Schools were the distribution points for ration books, and children therefore understood why there were “meatless” and “sweetless” days. Recipes for “point-thrifty” dinners suggested the use of meat-flavored seasonings and less desirable cuts of meat. The home kitchen also became a source of war supplies. Cooking fats (from vegetables as well as meat) contain glycerine, which was needed for explosives in bombs, shells and bullets. Butchers were the collection agents, and paid 4¢ for each pound jar of grease brought to them. Other scrap collection was managed by Civil Defense teams. Metals were in high demand throughout the war, and paper became increasingly important as more materials needed to be packed and shipped to the troops. But the first crisis was availability of rubber, because Japan occupied countries that had provided over 90% of the U.S. supply of natural rubber. A 1965 history of Hubbard Woods school recounts that “mothers of the kindergarten children [asked the teacher] to please put away the rubber ball because all the children who saw it wanted one for Christmas and there were none in the stores – rubber had gone to war!”