The average U.S. household will spend nearly $900 on back-to-school supplies this year, and in Minnesota, poverty-fighting organizations are feverishly trying to help low-income families get the items they need for a successful school year.
The cost estimate is from a National Retail Federation survey, and researchers said it is the highest total they’ve recorded. It comes as these families try to juggle higher expenses elsewhere, including rent, utilities and food.
Annie Shapiro, advocacy director for the Minnesota Community Action Partnership, said the Legislature has helped with actions such as free school meals for all students. But some families will still have tough decisions to make.
“We still have families really struggling to meet those basic needs,” Shapiro pointed out. “When you’re struggling to meet your basic needs, those more second-tier expenses just fall by the wayside. “
Around the state, community action agencies work with local partners on back-to-school giveaways for registered households. For example, last week, Community Action Partnership of Scott, Carver and Dakota counties gave away more than 700 backpacks filled with school supplies. The offices report heavy demand for overall services, and school supply events are no exception.
In northeastern Minnesota, the Arrowhead Economic Opportunity Agency is in its third year of handing out shoes to students who need them.
Emily Bombich, planning director for the agency, said it has grown to the point where they have a waitlist. She noted shoes can be an overlooked item as part of back-to-school needs.
“Kids all need to have, it seems like, a couple pairs of shoes when they go back to school,” Bombich noted. “If a kid doesn’t even have a new pair, how can they have a couple? And when they don’t have a pair of good-fitting shoes, that can cause a lot of different issues.”
Organizers argued it includes potential injuries, as well as feeling stigmatized.
In Meeker County, United Community Action Partnership has an annual school-supply giveaway.
Rochelle Brummond, outreach worker for the partnership, said they handed out more than 100 backpacks on the first day. Students use a lot of electronics these days, but her team ensures those in need have basic supplies.
“We have notebooks, we have scissors, we have glue sticks,” Brummond outlined.
She added trying to cover such expenses is especially hard on families with multiple children.
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