It costs a lot to fill a backpack — and even more to stock a classroom. According to the Huntington Bank Backpack Index, the contents of an elementary school student’s supply list cost a whopping average of $1,017 last year; compare that to 2006, when the cost was around $375. What about a middle school student’s loot? $1,277 — more than double what it was a decade ago ($525). And sending a high schooler off to their first day of classes can cost nearly $1,668 — compared to $800 13 years ago. This all makes for an average school-supply payment of about $1,000, which is about the same as the average U.S. monthly mortgage payment. Two words: Oy vey.
So, when it comes time to finally stock up on school supplies, getting them for cheap or — even better — free sounds pretty fantastic, right? The good news is that it’s totally possible; you just need to know where to look (and keep your eyes peeled for giveaways).
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Once you’ve scanned Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, OfferUp and all those other item-selling apps for free supplies, check out the options below.
Operation Homefront’s Back-to-School Brigade
This annual nationwide event distributes backpacks filled with school supplies to military kids, and it’s still being held in 2020 with COVID-19 modifications. To pick up your free school supplies, visit one of more than 60Back-to-School Brigade events hosted across the U.S. or stop by your local FRG.
The Salvation Army
Every year, the Salvation Army holds donation drives to collect back-to-school supplies for children in need, and this year is no exception (“despite very trying circumstances,” notes the SA website). Look up the Salvation Army in your area for dates.
Plenty of companies and programs in your area likely host school-supply giveaways.
For example, in Illinois, organization Back 2 School Illinois distributes back-to-school kits. Last year, the program provided over 1 million school supplies to over 34,000 children in need. And philanthropic program Operation School Bell provides new school clothing to local kids in poverty. Schools select up to 100 children who qualify for the program, which includes students on the free or reduced lunch program.
Contact area churches
Churches usually work to help kids get free school supplies — and you don’t need to be a parishioner. Call any church and tell them your needs.
Boys & Girls Clubs of America
The Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s Back2School program raises money specifically to benefit students. “Although school as we know it has changed, Boys & Girls Clubs are here to do whatever it takes to ensure all kids have equal access to resources and an inclusive environment,” says a statement from the org on its wesite. “Whether it’s virtual or in-person, Boys & Girls Clubs meet kids where they are to support social-emotional development, physical and mental wellness as well as mitigate learning loss so they can have a great future.”
Contact the school
While it may sound crazy, some schools will purchase extra supplies for families who aren’t able to purchase them, and some teachers will use part of their classroom budget to buy extra supplies. Teachers also have many programs and events available to them (which we’ll get to below) where they can score free school supplies. So if you need help, contact your child’s school and/or district.
Kids in Need Foundation
Kids in Need Foundation has a School Ready Supplies program that delivers school supplies directly to students. Through the program, companies must apply for a sponsorship to receive preassembled backpacks or bulk supplies. KINF also supplies supply boxes directly to teachers who work in a school where the rate of free and reduced lunch is 70 percent or higher. Those who apply and are chosen will receive two large boxes filled with essential school supplies, including pencils, scissors, paper and notebooks.
According to KINF’s website, the organization has distributed more than $1 billion in school supplies to kids in need.
Feed the Children
Feed the Children’s Homeless Education and Literacy Program, or H.E.L.P., has distributed more than 1 million backpacks to homeless and at-risk kids in the U.S. Each backpack not only includes school supplies and books, but also personal care items and snacks.
Teachers can stop into one of Feed the Children’s Teacher Stores in Oklahoma, Indiana, Tennessee, Pennsylvania and California, where they can pick up free classroom and school supplies. You can find the locations here.
A version of this story was originally published in August 2019.
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