Taking a bite out of the back-to-school billBack-to-school time for many means heading out to local stores to stock up on supplies like paper, pencils, glue, and other necessities. For many, though, these expenditures can be too much of a hit to the pocketbook, all at once.
By: Tony Bennett, For the Budgeteer News
Back-to-school time for many means heading out to local stores to stock up on supplies like paper, pencils, glue, and other necessities. For many, though, these expenditures can be too much of a hit to the pocketbook, all at once.
Scores of local families who are living day-to-day right on the line between getting by and not may face the reality that the fall means either purchasing supplies so their child can learn or keeping the lights on by paying the electric bill. It’s a painful reality for many.
This is why CHUM in Duluth started its annual backpack distribution program in 2002 — to help ease the financial burden that the return to school can bring for struggling people who have school-age children, as well as easing the social burdens that less-fortunate kids can face if they show up to school unprepared.
Families with school-aged children will spend, on average, more than $630 on back-to-school items this year, according to the National Retail Federation. The bulk of that is on clothing and shoes. A little more than $95.44 will be spent on school supplies — such as notebooks, pencils and backpacks.
“Some of the people we serve have four or five kids, so it gets to be a sizable amount of money” that some families have to invest, said Meg Kearns, Distributive Services Director at CHUM.
Kearns said that children who show up on the first day of school without the necessary tools are not just unprepared for learning, but also will likely suffer a blow to their self-esteem as a result. “I think we all kind of remember the excitement of the new backpack and the new supplies, and it would be hard to be a student on the first day of school, walking in and looking at everybody else with these bright, shiny things — and they don’t have anything,” she said.
Deb Wagner is the Families in Transition Advocate for the Duluth Public Schools, and she works with CHUM to provide assistance for the yearly event which this year took place on August 20, as a part of the Back to School Fair at the school district’s Central Administration Building. She said the program is needed. More than 800 backpacks were donated at the fair.
“By the time you fill up a backpack with the necessities, it really does add up,” Wagner said. “What we’ve been able to do is provide the essential items.”
The backpacks — some of which are purchased in bulk by CHUM along with a large number of the supplies that go in them — are stuffed with different items, depending on the age of the child.
“K through 5 will have glue sticks, pocket folders, pencils, scissors, crayons, markers, and wide-ruled notebooks,” Kearns said. The 6-through-12 packs feature college-ruled notebooks, three-ring binders, and folders, among other items.
None of these items come to CHUM for free, of course. For the most part, they acquire them through donations of materials or money, and some of this gathering is done via local partners such as St. Luke’s.
“St. Luke’s employees have contributed many filled backpacks and boxes of school supplies over the years,” said Louise Ernewein, St. Luke’s media/marketing specialist. “This year employees donated 56 backpacks, most of which were filled with the requested supplies, as well as numerous additional bags and boxes of supplies.”
Another major contributor is St. Benedict’s Catholic Church, which relies on its parishioners to help out with their contributions. “We put out flyers,” said Sister Anna Rose Kalinowski, Parish Life Coordinator at the church, “and our community is very generous. Our parishioners donated 25 backpacks and $185. Our folks have a heart for those who are in need, and they want to be able to help in any way possible. The mission of the church is to look after the poor.”
The need for the backpack program is evident in the large number of them that goes out the door every fall. “Last year, I think we gave out 824. And I know that the day after, I’ll get calls” asking if CHUM has any more, Kearns said.
Wagner said that it’s not easy to gauge the exact impact CHUM’s program has on the community because there are other similar programs that take place elsewhere, but that “the majority” of them go to Duluth students, and she guesses that “maybe one out of 15” students could be benefiting from the
The need is great, and it’s not likely to disappear any time soon. Both Wagner and Kearns suggest that anyone who would like to help is welcome to contact CHUM with donations of goods or cash.
Those involved with the backpack program say the goal is simply to give the less-fortunate a hand at an important time. “It’s just a nice way to start the year,” Wagner said. “We know that kids are getting what they need.”
To learn more about CHUM visit its website, www.chumduluth.org, or phone (218) 720-6521.