This week I began back-to-school shopping with my daughter. We walked around the store with our list, carefully selecting the pencils and crayons and fun notebooks that she’ll be using all year. Seventy-five cents for three erasers, fifty cents for a bottle of glue, seventeen cents for a notebook (except for the one with the kittens on it … THAT one was $1.99). All in all, we spent under $20 and left with most of her school supplies.

We put it in the cart. I paid for it. We left.

And that was that.

I am blessed to have enough money in the bank that I wasn’t worried about seventeen cents. I wasn’t worried about fifty cents. I wasn’t even worried about $1.99.

But for many people, it’s not so simple.

There are children all over the world who can’t go to school simply because their parents can’t afford school supplies.

(That takes my breath away.)

And there might very well be children in your own community who don’t get a special shopping trip to prepare for the new school year. There is just. No. Money. No money for new clothes and shoes … and even more urgently, no money for the school supplies that they are expected to bring. For these kids, the first day of school will be something to dread. There will be no new backpack, stuffed full of everything they might need. And they know it.

Y’all … that’s not okay with me.

Not when the difference between an empty backpack and a full one is so simple.

So this week, for our service challenge … we’re going shopping for school supplies.

Serving with School Supplies

So here’s the first step in our challenge: Choose where you’re going to donate your school supplies to. There are many organizations that would love to receive them; here’s a list of ideas to get you thinking.

* Operation Christmas Child. If you’ve been around here for a while, you probably guessed that this would be on my list. And if you’re new here (welcome!) … I love, love, LOVE Operation Christmas Child. If you’re not familiar with this program, I’d love to have you read this post and consider starting a shoebox this week. There are three times of year when I do a lot of shopping for Operation Christmas Child – early January (when Christmas items are 80-90% off), July and August when school supplies are at rock-bottom prices (YIPPIE!), and in early November, when I fill in the gaps. But all year long my eyes are open … toothpaste that’s free with a coupon, an extra toothbrush from my dentist’s office, a coloring book on the clearance rack … it all gets added to my stash. If you would like to pack a shoebox, this week is a perfect time to start! For some kids in developing countries, a lack of school supplies is the only thing that prevents them from getting an education. So as much as I love to add toys and fun items to shoeboxes, I always, ALWAYS add school supplies.

* Homeless shelters. In my area, there are shelters for families, shelters for women, and even a shelter for homeless teens. Every one of them has school/office supplies on their wish list. For homeless kids who are heading back to school … for adults who are working on getting their GED … even for the busy office staff at these non-profits … everyone needs pens, pencils, and paper. When I taught a couponing classs at a local women’s shelter a few months ago, almost all of the ladies in that room wanted to know how to save on school supplies. Even months before they’d need to buy them for their children, they were beginning to worry about it.
* Foster care programs. In my city, there is a great program to help gather school supplies for kids in the foster care program. If you don’t know how to get involved, do an internet search for “Foster Care” and your city name, or you can even contact your local Child Protective Services. They’ll be happy to point you to an organization that would love your donations.
* A family in need. Do you know a family who is struggling financially? You can ask what they need – or just drop off school supplies on their door! If you do it this week, you’ll probably be able to get many items on sale. And just imagine the stress you’ll be relieving from that family over the next month as they know they don’t need to worry about back-to-school supplies!
* Schools – Finally, if you aren’t sure where to start, just call your local elementary school and ask what their needs are. If it’s a small school, they might know of a specific family who could use some anonymous help. (They can tell you the ages/needs of the kids so you can shop for them – they don’t need to give away any confidential information.) Or your school could tell you what general needs are. Do a lot of kids show up without backpacks? Are the teachers having to reach into their own pockets to buy art supplies? Have budget cuts limited the amount of paper that the school can provide teachers? I can almost guarantee that there will be an office member who would be thrilled to let you help.

Once you’ve chosen the organization you’d like to donate to, ask what their greatest needs are. And then … it’s time to shop! This can be as simple as adding a few extra school supplies to your shopping cart the next time you’re at the store. Done! But if you’d like a few budget-stretching ideas, here are my top five tips for you:

1. Price match. Walmart will price match any advertised local ad. (Last year, Toys R Us had Crayola crayons on sale at 4/$1, but they were sold out. I went to Walmart and got enough for all of my shoeboxes!) If you have ads from several stores, you can get it all done at once. If you need help learning how to price match, you can see this post that I wrote for Today’s The Best Day on price-matching at Walmart. And as always, please feel free to comment with any questions!
2. Look at drugstores. This seems like a weird tip – drugstores are typically much more expensive than other stores. But I’ve had great luck getting school supplies there! For instance, this week at Walgreens (through Saturday, July 25th), backpacks are on sale for $2.99 (I’ve never used this brand, but I’ve heard they’re fairly durable), 15-pack cap erasers or 2-pack pink erasers are 4/$1, Fiskars scissors are $.99, and protractors and index cards are $.29.
3. Use Target in-store coupons. Right now at coupons.target.com, you can print off a coupon for $2 off a $10 Up-and-Up school supply purchase. This is an easy way to stretch your budget. In the past, I’ve seen printable coupons for pens, hilighters, and even Post-It notes, so keep an on this page if you’re a Target shopper.
4. Look at ads for office supply stores. If you don’t get Staples or Office Max ads delivered to your home, check them out online. There are often “penny deals” or
“quarter deals” at back to school time. Sometimes the penny deals will have a minimum purchase to qualify; that’s when I buy something I needed anyway (usually ink) and snag my awesome deals.
5. Involve your friends. Even if you have a $0 budget right now, you can still help with this challenge! Find a local place that needs donations, then spread the word. At work, at school, at church, among your friends … let others know what the needs are in your community, and start a school supply drive. We did this at church last year, and I let the ladies know every week what the best deals were. People were thrilled to be able to help with just a dollar or two.

That’s this week’s kindness challenge! I hope I’ve given you an idea or two that you can use. What are you planning on doing this week? I’d love to hear!

2 Comments on Serving with School Supplies

  1. Great suggestions!!! And, I love when our weeks coincide! Maybe next summer we can work together!!! Quick tip with OfficeMax/Depot. The penny sales do require a $5 purchase BUT it totals up the regular price of the penny items first! So, no extra purchase needed! I walked out of there this week with three bottles of glue, three packages of index cards, and three packages of pens for the grand total of ten cents!!!