The beginning of a new school year can be exciting, nerve-wracking and a sad time rolled all into one. Students are excited to see all their friends, nervous about their new classes or meeting new people and sad to see the summer end.  Parents can feel the same way as their children, but a mix of worry and dread can be thrown into the equation as well.

That feeling stems from the thought of, “Can we afford school supplies?”

School supplies isn’t cheap by any means. In 2018, Americans are expected to spend nearly $83 billion on school supplies, which includes K-12 and college. In fact, the average cost of school supplies for an elementary school student is $200 and for a high school student it’s $375. Unfortunately, you sometimes can’t even count on teachers and the school district to supply the necessary supplies.

Think about all the times you were in school and the teacher didn’t have any tissues, paper towels, scissors, pens, pencils or loose-leaf paper to go around. Some students had plenty to use as they brought the supplies from home. But for those students that didn’t have that luxury, if their teachers couldn’t give them these supplies, where would they get the materials? For teachers, parents and students alike, it’s a helpless feeling.

If you find your family in a low-income situation, try not to worry too much. There are ways you CAN get your children the school supplies they need without shelling out between $200-400!

The Salvation Army

The Salvation Army can help your family get free school items. Every year, stores nationwide accept new school supplies in the summer months to help put together kits for qualifying families. These supplies are put into backpacks and handed out to children to help them succeed in school. Check with your local Salvation Army to see what the specific county/town rules and regulations are to qualify for the supplies.

United Way

The United Way organizes annual School Supply Drives to help local students prepare to go back to school. This drive collects supplies for K-12 students and puts them into backpacks to give to low income students. This particular group, the United Way of Cass-Clay in North Dakota, were able to give out 5,800 backpacks with school supplies to K-12 students at the beginning of the 2017-2018 school year. Just imagine how many families this can help at all the United Ways across the country!

Operation Homefront

Operation Homefront’s Back-to-School Brigade® is an annual nationwide school supply collection and distribution campaign to help military members’ children succeed in the classroom. In 2017, the program gave out over 41,000 backpacks to military children across the country at over 60 events.

Assistance League

Another charitable program to help low income students in more ways than just providing school supplies is Assistance League’s Operation School Bell®. Each chapter of Assistance League digs in and does extensive research to find out what specific supplies, programs and help is needed in each community. The chapters then provide new school clothes, supplies, health assistance (hearing and vision tests, dental care) and enrichment in literacy, culture and higher education to the students.

State Programs

You can also find assistance from various other programs in your home state. The programs can either be run by the government or just other local charities. For example, Back 2 School Illinois gave out over 1 million pieces of school supplies to over 34,000 students in 2017. The group also hosts Build-A-Kit programs to help make these kits for students and awards two schools in Chicago free supplies every year.

Hands Across the Bay in Tampa, Florida, also has a Back to School Assistance program where low-income students can receive backpacks filled with school supplies.

When it comes to your location, do as much research as you can to find the programs in your area that can help. Check online sources, go to the local library, church, bank, food pantry, or government center to see if you can collect information on the nearest drives and distribution campaigns.

It doesn’t hurt to reach out for assistance, especially when it comes to helping your children succeed at school. Check out some of these helpful programs that can provide you with free school supplies today!