By Connie Matthiessen, Associate Editor of Great Schools
(re-posted with permission)

Back to SchoolBack to school may be the second biggest shopping season of the year, but my family usually doesn’t join the stampede. My kids aren’t big shoppers, and neither am I; besides, times are tight. Someone will inevitably need a new pair of shoes or a hoodie; I’ll pick up socks, a few shirts, the school supplies their teachers request, and leave it at that.

But I’m bracing for this year to be different. My daughter grew at least six inches over the last year, and she’s starting high school – a combination that amounts to a back-to-school perfect storm.

It’s only the beginning of August, and I’ve already heard comments like these:

“I don’t have one pair of shoes that isn’t falling apart.”

“All my jeans are too tight.”

And this mournful wail: “I have nothing to wearrrrrrrr!”

She’s exaggerating of course — although it’s true that she’s outgrown many of her favorite clothes, and she badly needs a warm jacket. But it makes me wonder what it would be like if I couldn’t afford to get her a pair of jeans that fit, or a backpack to replace the one with the torn strap. Or the family budget was too tight to purchase the binders and pencils and notebooks she’ll need on the first day of school.
Back-to-school season of giving

This is the case for many school kids — 16 million, by some estimates — in the U.S.  This crisis has turned the back-to-school season into a season of need — and, fortunately, of giving. Around the country, organizations, schools, churches, and individuals are donating clothing and school supplies so low-income kids can start the school year with plenty of pencils and notebooks — and maybe even a brand new outfit or two.

A few examples:

  • In a project organized by Oakland-based  K to College, inmates at Folsom Prison assemble back-to-school kits for low-income students in the Bay Area. (The inmates get kits for their own children, too!)
  • Northern Kentucky Harvest, a local nonprofit, will distribute 900 backpacks filled with school supplies at its annual  Backpacks and Breakfast event in Covington, KY.
  • A community center in Scottsdale, AZ teamed up with the local police association to create a store where 500 kids picked up school supplies — for free.
  • The Salvation Army is helping kids in Columbia, South Carolina,  Modesto, California, and other cities through its Clothes for Kids program.
  • Feed the Children is sponsoring  “Teacher Stores” — where teachers can go once a month for free school supplies — in New Jersey, Indiana, Texas, and other states.

How you can help

To give a child a backpack full of basic school supplies, contact Feed the Children. You can learn more about similar projects in your area by searching “back to school donations” and the name of your city in your Web browser.

These back-to-school efforts are inspiring; they’re also a poignent reminder, if anyone needs one, of how many children in the U.S. live in poverty — 16.4 million or 23 percent in 2011 (and remember that “poverty” is defined as income below $22,811 for a family of two adults and two children; many more Americans who don’t fit this definition are, by any measure, very poor) — not just during the back-to-school season, but all year round. 

Connie Matthiessen is Associate Editor of GreatSchools— GreatSchools has a weekly blog to empower and inspire parents to participate in their children’s development and educational success, where this article first appeared. (It is used here with permission.) You can subscribe to the GreatSchools Blog at