You Can Still Get School Supplies for Free This Year — Here's Where to Go

·4 min read

It costs a lot to fill a backpack — and even more this year than in 2020, according to reports. Prices on everything from school supplies to clothing are on the rise, according to a new KPMG survey. This back-to-school season, the average parent’s spending per student is expected to be as much as $270, compared with about $250 in 2020. Parents of preschoolers can expect to spend a whopping 32 percent more on back-to-school supplies, and college students aren’t in the clear, either — their parents will spend about 13 percent more this year. Word is that while there’s a heightened demand for supplies including everything from notebooks to clothing and kids shoes, there’s also (as we’ve noticed with most industries over the past year) a shortage when it comes to manufacturing of these supplies. All of these facts are the makings of a very expensive back-to-school season.

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). Once you’ve scanned Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, OfferUp, and all those other item-selling apps for free supplies, check out the options below.

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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 2021 with COVID-19 modifications. To pick up your free school supplies, visit one of more than 60 Back-to-School Brigade events hosted across the U.S. or stop by your local FRG.

Look locally

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Plenty of companies and programs in your area likely host school-supply giveaways.

For example, in Illinois, the 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 organization on its website. “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 strange, 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 Supply A Student 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, each year, their programs provide over $70 million in product at no cost to schools or teachers.

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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