I find that my sympathy leans toward children more easily than adults. Sometimes an adult’s struggle is the result of poor decisions, but children generally don’t deserve the challenges they face. On top of that, it seems that kids have more of an opportunity to break the cycles of poverty and succeed in life, which makes an investment in kids that much more rewarding. One way I like to help kids is school supplies. I LOVE school- and art supplies. Yes, you’ve heard my story, you know how I longed and lusted for that big box of crayons with the sharpener in the back. My parents were practical and practically broke through much of my childhood, so we didn’t get shiny new supplies every fall just because. We got the cheapest possible version of things we needed when we needed them.
As a parent, I see the ways in which I internalized these memories. I am happiest in a paperie (stationary store) or even an office supplies store. I own hundreds of well-loved colored pencils, scrapbooking markers, drawing pencils, etc. (I even have a Facebook page for the little pictures I doodle). I loved taking my son shopping for back-to-school (he’s going to high school this year (!!!) so the plain notebooks and pens aren’t as much fun to buy), and I always bought him quality art supplies. But I never bought him that big box of crayons. I make him use backpacks, shoes, jackets, and clothes until they don’t fit or are too beat up. I find myself pulled between the half of me that wants him to have everything I ever wanted as a child, and the half of me that appreciates my parents’ practical frugality. I don’t think it’s healthy for a kid to be handed everything he ever wanted; it spoils them. I want J to appreciate things, but at the same time I don’t want him to suffer for lack.
Many kids go back to school embarrassed by their lack. They get some cheap crayons and pencils during the great back-to-school sales, and they smuggle them into the classroom in a brown paper bag. Teachers are pretty good about making sure their students get what they need by pooling supplies for the whole class to share, or even spending some of their limited income to fill in gaps. But you don’t have to be a teacher to help with this need. Here’s a simple plan for a school supplies drive you can do at your office, church, or community group.
- Make clear decisions so everyone is on the same page. Pick a specific school that the supplies will go to, make a list of what’s needed, and have a specific, central drop off location.
- Find out what the real needs are. Once you’ve decided on a school to work with, call the office and ask what their biggest needs are. When our MOMS Club chapter did a school supplies drive we learned that backpacks are hard for low income families to get, as they cost a lot more than pencils and erasers. Kids without a backpack are more likely to lose permission slips and other important information that needs to get home and back.
- Share the information with your group of people. Make a flyer or email that clearly states where the supplies are going, what the biggest needs are, and where people can drop things off.
- Think outside the (pencil) box. Back to school means more than just art supplies and notebooks. Back to school means tennis shoes, clothes, and for those of us in the frozen northland, time to start thinking about fall jackets and winter gear. Ask the school about their non-craft supply needs as well. You might be surprised what you learn. In working with a local elementary school, our church learned that underwear is a real need for the schools. Younger kids have accidents, and school nurses like to have something on hand to get kids back to class with minimal learning time disruption or embarrassment. We had some fun with that one and held and “Undie Sunday” where people were encouraged to bring new packages of underwear and diapers that were distributed through the school and The Diaper Drive. The unusual theme of that drive made people laugh, and they remembered to pitch in!
- Consider accepting cash donations as well. In your information about the event, let your participants know that you will also accept cash donations and exactly what that cash will go for. You might say something like, “cash donations will be pooled together to provide more backpacks,” or you could even give the cash right to the school and let them put it to work wherever it’s needed most (maybe field trip fees, recorders for music class, etc. The possible expenses are endless – all the parents say “AMEN!”)
- Follow through. Drop off the supplies in a timely manner and be transparent about how much cash came in and where it went. Make another flyer or email that cheers donors and lets them know the results of their generosity.
Kids deserve an equal opportunity to learn and grow; thank you for making it possible!
Are you a teacher? Have you hosted a school supplies drive? Do you have any additional suggestions? Leave a comment!