Ready or not, back-to-school season is right around the corner. For many students, it’s an exciting time, filled with new opportunities to learn and grow. But for others, including the 15 million children living in poverty in the United States, going back to school can bring stress and worry about not having access to the school supplies they need.
According to a National Retail Federation survey, families with K-12 children will spend an average of $685 on back-to-school shopping. About $237 of that total will be spent on clothes, $139 on shoes and $122 on supplies like notebooks and backpacks.
But families living below the poverty line can’t afford to spend that much on their children’s school supplies and back-to-school clothing. Without these supplies, kids face a number of challenges in the upcoming year, including a lack of preparedness, participation, self-esteem and interest in learning, as well as behavior and attendance issues.
How You Can Help Make a Difference
While we can’t solve school supply poverty overnight, we can recognize that this problem is impacting our cities, our local schools and maybe even our children’s best friends — and we can choose to do something about it.
Here are six small ways you can make a big impact on students in your community.
1. Donate School Supplies
This one may be obvious, but it’s truly one of the easiest ways to fight school supply poverty. You can donate to a supply drive run by a local organization, drop off supplies at a local underprivileged school in your area or even organize a drive of your own. No matter how you choose to donate, keep in mind that some of the most requested classroom supplies are pencils, dry-erase markers, notebooks, folders, markers and cleaning supplies like Bounty Paper Towels and Puffs Tissues.
2. Send Extra School Supplies with Your Student
As you’re shopping for items on your child’s supply list, buy some extra pencils, markers, notebooks and cleaning supplies for students who may be coming to school with nothing. Your child can share the extra supplies with others in the class or give them to the teacher as classroom supplies.
3. Organize a Clothing Swap
Here’s how it works: People bring gently used kids’ clothing (think shorts, shirts, pants and shoes). Community members can take what they like or need, and they don’t have to contribute clothing to shop. It’s a great way to clear out clothes that no longer fit your child while also providing those in need with nice clothing at no cost. You may even consider adding books to the swap.
4. Put Your Skills to Good Use
All students want to put their best face forward for a new school year, which usually includes a new haircut. If you’re a hairdresser or barber, choose a day to offer your services to students free of charge.
5. Bake (or Wash) for a Cause
Many teachers use portions of their own salaries to buy school supplies for students whose families can’t afford them. Donating money to a classroom or school to help fund these purchases is just one more way you can help combat school supply poverty. Arrange a bake sale or a car wash to raise money for a local school in need. Recruit volunteers to help bake treats or wash cars, make flyers to spread the word and watch the community come together. Check to see if you can set up shop at the local pool or community center.
6. Partner with the Pros
Annual eye exams and glasses can make a huge difference in a child’s education; however, families in poverty often don’t have access to either. Several organizations and foundations work to give underprivileged children eye exams and glasses at low or no cost. Consider donating money or partnering with one of these groups to help those in need.
Every year, students’ education suffers because of lack of resources. But small actions add up to big changes, and if everyone does a little, we can work toward a solution.
Have another idea for our list? Tell us in the comments.