Need assistance with back-to-school supplies? These resources will help

Brightly colored markers, freshly sharpened No. 2 pencils, crisp blank notebooks, and new backpacks herald the back-to-school season, but that annual milestone isn’t cheap — especially for families who are struggling financially.

According to the 2013 National Retail Federation’s Back-to-School Survey, conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics, families with children will spend an average $634.78 on apparel, shoes, supplies and electronics. That’s less than the $688.62 that was spent last year, indicating the parents really want to cut back.

When it comes to school supplies, here are some tips for saving and other ways to get help if the costs of sending your children back to school threatens to break the bank:

  • Begin with the family resource center at your child’s school. Most schools have guidance counselors who can help put you in touch with resources for free or discounted school supplies.
  • Check with your local church or youth center. Many have back-to-school drives or know who does.
  • Don’t snub the store brands. They can save you almost 75 percent, according to Consumer Reports’ ShopSmart magazine. They also suggest asking for a price match if you see a better deal somewhere else. Many of the big chains have price-matching policies, so have a flyer ready and don’t be shy.
  • Get app happy.  RedLaser is a great app which allows you to scan bar codes and find out if there are any cheaper prices at other retailers or online for similar items.
  • Buy in bulk when you can. Go in with other parents for extra savings. Many of the items you buy will be needed in the years to come, and what you don’t use can be donated.
  • Makes friends with stores via social media. If you “like” your favorite stores, they will keep you updated on savings and discounts.
  • Good things come to those who wait. Can you put off shopping until after Labor Day? By then many stores are ready to move their inventory at deep discounts.

In addition to these tips, check out these programs that are offered by national organizations, which will help you outfit your little ones, tweens, and teens for the new school year. These programs also offer a great opportunity to donate time, money or goods towards meeting the needs of other families.

The Salvation Army

The Salvation Army has been helping families for years. It is a decentralized organization with most local centers holding their own back-to-school distribution programs, For instance, several different companies are currently partnering with The Salvation Army for “Stuff the Bus,” a designated two-week program for participating stores which runs between July 1 and September 1.  These stores and partners are encouraging participants to drop off new school supplies for young kids for the upcoming new school year at various regional locations. Check your local Salvation Army headquarters for more information for how to donate or participate.

The Salvation Army also provides help to children and families in need year-round, including mentoring programs devoted to youth development. To participate in a Salvation Army program, families must register with their local Salvation Army. Each application is reviewed by professional Social Service counselors to determine need and to prevent a duplication of services. To locate the nearest Salvation Army location, visit The Salvation Army national website and enter your zip code in the ‘Locations’ field.

The Kids in Need Foundation

This foundation distributes supplies to 2.4 million students annually. While they do not donate directly, through a national network of Resource Centers, teachers can get free supplies for their students in need.  To qualify for shopping privileges, a certain percentage of a school’s students must be enrolled in the federal free and reduced lunch program. The foundation also distributed items through community backpack and supplies giveaway programs throughout the country.  For communities without its Resource Centers, community organizations often provide supplies to local students by conducting backpack giveaways through the foundation.  Go to http://www.kinf.org/ for more information on applying to receive support for a school, or to donate.

Boys & Girls Club of America

Boys & Girls Clubs of America hosts a national supply drive, called Tools for Back-to-School, through an online play-to-give game and in-store support at retailers across the nation. These supplies, as well as supplies donated by their partners, Disney, Michaels, and Staples, are delivered directly to local Boys & Girls Clubs. Families can contact their local Boys & Girls Club for more information on back-to-school support. To find your local club visit www.greatfutures.org and click Find A Club.

AdoptAClassroom.org

AdoptAClassroom.org is a national, nonprofit organization whose goal is to make sure that all children have access to a quality education. They start by supporting classroom teachers, and since 1998 have raised over $18 million for classrooms across the country. Through this program, teachers are able to make purchases to enrich their classrooms, and students benefit. To support a classroom, visit www.adoptaclassroom.org.

The Give with Target Program

The retail chain will donate $5 million to schools across the country to help ensure that students and teachers have the supplies they need to start the new year. From now through September 21, guests can cast their vote for a school of their choice by visiting Target’s Facebook page. Once a school has received 25 votes, Target will donate $1 per vote, with a (maximum donation of $10,000 per school). The cash donation will provide schools with undesignated funds to purchase the materials their students and teachers need most. For more info, visit http://givewith.target.com/.

From school supplies to student mentoring, there are a plethora of resources for parents and schools seeking extra financial and social support as children return to school this month and next. Did we miss any programs or opportunities? Share your favorite back to school support groups and organizations below.

Suzanne Rust is a writer, lifestyle expert, on-air talent, and a native New Yorker. Follow her on Twitter at @SuzanneRust.

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