By JOHN BRANDI
School supply lists have continued to grow for cash-strapped parents across Westchester County, but a few organizations are
trying to provide relief to help ease that burden and give kids the tools to succeed in school.
As summer comes to a close, parents with school-age children now have to shift their focus to the ever-increasing cost of school supplies. Item needs, usually in the form of a list provided by the child’s school, detail what should be bought for the school year ahead. The 2015-2016 digital school item lists from Harrison’s Louis M. Klein Middle School, which describes what a child entering kindergarten through grade 12 needs, feature 10 items or more, with the quantity of some items requested several times over.
For example, a child entering third grade will need eight broad-tip markers, two spiral notebooks and 12 No. 2 pencils.
According to the Huntington Bank Backpack Index, an analysis for exploring the costs related to school supplies, there has been a jump in price in each respective grade level for basic supplies since 2007. This year alone, parents can expect to spend an average increase of 1, 2.5 and 9 percent for kids in elementary, middle and high school, respectively.
“With the ongoing slow growth in wages, it is difficult for many families to meet the rising costs of sending children to school,” George Mokrzan, director of economics for Huntington Bank, said in a released statement. “For a family of five living at the poverty level guideline of $28,410, the cost of sending three children to school would consume as much as 10 percent of their income.”
Moreover, according to the U.S. Department of Education, one in every five school-age child was living below the federal poverty line in 2013, totaling 10.9 million children.
In an effort to help low-income families combat the growing costs of school supplies, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, a Republican, launched Operation Backpack in 2012. The county began teaming up with The Sharing Shelf of Family Services, a Port Chester nonprofit, and other similar agencies and businesses to collect and distribute school supplies for children in need.
“It’s wonderful to see the community step forward to make such a positive difference in the lives of local children,” said Deborah Blatt, coordinator of The Sharing Shelf.
Meanwhile, Hazel Alexander-Campbell, a Tuckahoe resident, is working to provide backpacks and other school supplies to lower-income children living in the Tuckahoe Housing Authority, THA, on Union Avenue, totaling around 67 children, up from 61 just two years ago. The demand for school supplies is still high, but luckily, Alexander-Campbell said, the donor list has grown and remains strong.
Some 30 donors on her list include elected officials from Tuckahoe and neighboring Eastchester, businesses in the area, emergency, first-responder organizations and even people whom Alexander-Campbell has met from as far away as Englewood, N.J.
“The feedback from the community at large has been positive so far, and there’s been such a big response from everyone who has donated and continues to donate,” Alexander-Campbell said.
Though she’s received nearly 100 backpacks, she said her committee, The Children Working for All Children, has collected other school supplies as well. The committee was started by her church, Shiloh Baptist in Tuckahoe, in 2008, but fizzled out when her pastor left the state. She reignited the effort in 2011 as the committee’s new president, and set her sights on initiatives that would assist children. For the past three years, she has been pushing to provide kids in the THA with the opportunity to have the same experiences as their higher-income peers.
“There’s an importance in children having supplies which make them have a better education,” Alexander-Campbell said. “[I want] for the children in my area to be just as successful, so they can go to school feeling positive.”
Jeanne Canon, a teacher in the Eastchester School District, said there’s a school budget in place for supplies, but oftentimes the parents will provide any additional item needs. She said, however, there is a certain degree where teachers are supplementing school supplies in the interim.
“What am I going to do? Wait six months to buy markers?” Canon said.
Pastor Ramaul Morgan, from West Harrison’s Memorial Community Church and organizer of an annual backpack giveaway which serves 150 local children, could not be reached for comment, as of press time.