School is almost back in session. That means that your kids may need new clothes, backpacks and, of course, school supplies — all the fresh paper, folders and pens they can get their hands on.
But not every family is fortunate enough to be able to buy all the school supplies needed at the beginning of the year. Families with children in elementary through high school can spend an average of $685 on back-to-school supplies, including electronics, clothing and shoes for their growing brood, according to a recent survey from the National Retail Federation.
This is a significant reason why this August, organizations such as The Neediest Kids program, United Way of Central Maryland and The Ronald McDonald House Charities of Greater Washington D.C. will host fun back-to-school events throughout the region to help children in challenged neighborhoods start the school year right.
Each organization has its specialized mission, with supplies to spare.
The Neediest Kids program in Bethesda, which is an entity of National Center for Children’s and Families, aims to provide resources to students across Maryland, D.C. and Virginia, says program director Jermaine Lemons. On average, it serves 40,000 students, he says.
“This is something that has been around for 40 years. We work with nine local school districts, and we help the homeless and economically disadvantaged students in those districts receive some of the basic necessities that they need to thrive,” he says. “Anything a child needs to focus and stay in school — we try to remove that barrier.”
In addition to school supplies, children can receive haircuts, new clothing, school uniforms, an eye examination and eyeglasses, personal care items and bedding, among other services. Volunteers help fill backpacks with school supplies and distribute them to young students who are eager to learn, he adds.
“Everything is done discreetly. We mostly work with social workers and pupil personnel workers inside the schools to pass along the vouchers to the students,” he says. “We are all about making sure that the family who needs this service is not singled out.”
Beth Littrell, who has been with United Way in Maryland for six years as the assistant director of community relations and volunteerism, also agrees that school supply drives are needed.
“We have done this for the past six years and it has grown into something quite enormous, which is a good thing,” Littrell says. “Last year, we had about 35 drives that we ran. We collect the school supplies through different outlets. One is we have a lot of corporate partners. I reach out to them to say hey, we need school supplies, here are the supplies we need, who is interested in running a drive? We have partners who will put things in their lobbies, or internally to gather donations.”
Another way to collect school supplies is through the schools and online registries, Littrell adds.
“Last year, we even had some high school kids who wanted to run a drive through their school. In addition to that, we have added a component where people can do an online registry, where people can go out and get supplies. They can order straight to our site, and those items get shipped directly to us. Right now, we have a registry set up at Target,” she says.
Last year, the United Way gave out supplies to 1,200 students. Volunteers drove a colorful back-to-school shuttle around the city to pick up supplies from organizations participating in the drive, including Under Armour, Miles & Stockbridge, T. Rowe Price and Johns Hopkins Medicine. And they hope to provide just as many backpacks to students this year, Littrell says.
“With the backpack drives in particular, there is nothing cuter than seeing a kid get a brand new backpack full of supplies, throwing it over their shoulder and just seeing them so excited,” she says. “You wouldn’t think that something that small would be a big impact, but it is.”
The organization also hosts back-to-school giveaways in Baltimore City and Anne Arundel, Baltimore County, Carroll, Harford and Howard counties.
The Ronald McDonald House’s school supply drives are one of the most popular ways to mobilize a community and help students in need, says Sarah Quillen, vice president of development and marketing. The Ronald McDonald Care Mobile/KIDS Mobile Medical Clinic provides free healthcare to children in D.C. Wards 4 to 8. The second Care Mobile, which was successfully piloted in D.C. in 2017, is home to the FITNESS (Fun in Teaching Nutrition and Exercise to Successful Students) program. What does it do? It partners with schools across D.C. to deliver a curriculum focusing on healthy eating and the importance of physical activity to students grades K-8, Quillen says.
In addition to the mobiles backpack drives, families can also receive food, toiletry and toys from the organization’s donation drives.
The Ronald McDonald Care Mobiles currently serve 4,254 patients, with more than 1,237 medical visits and has hosted 34 outreach events across the area.
And across the three core programs, including housing for families in D.C. and Virginia, approximately, 7785 children were served in 2017, Quillen explains.
“We partner with MedStar Georgetown University Hospital with the two Care Mobiles, and they are the ones that drive the 40-foot medical unit around and come to schools. Over the summer, they also go to community centers. They park them there, and they serve where the kids are, which is much more convenient for them. We also do certain drives through the houses, when children and their families are staying with us.”
As for other ways, the community can help? Some options include donating time, supplies and vehicles as well as participating in a wish-list drive. Donations can even be dropped off to either the D.C. or Virginia house.
“What I enjoy most is raising money and raising awareness for a stellar cause,” she says. “The beauty of this organization, especially in the D.C. area where there are so many charities, is that we are small but mighty. We have a small staff and an army of volunteers that donate, and I am always so honored and proud to be a part of this effort and continue this effort of helping families.”
Need one more place to donate?
The Jewish Community Services, along with partnering programs, is collecting school supplies through Sept. 13. Both school supplies and gift cards can be dropped off at the Jewish Community Center (JCC) locations at 5700 Park Heights Ave. in Baltimore and 3506 Gwynnbrook Ave. in Owings Mills as well as Jewish Community Services, 5750 Park Heights Ave. Visit jcsbalt.org/schoolsupply for more information.
United Way of Central Maryland Supply Drive, August 21, times vary
Locations: Edgewood Elementary School, Baltimore; Lakeland Elementary School, Baltimore;
Landsdowne Elementary School, Baltimore; Phelps Luck Elementary School, Columbia;
Taneytown Elementary School, Taneytown; Van Bokkelen Elementary School, Severn