How much do you usually spend on school supplies for your kids each year? The National Retail Federation reports that the average family spends more than $600 a year on school supplies for elementary level, rising to over $800 a year for college level. That’s a heck of a lot of money over the years, especially when you’re struggling to pay the rent, get the groceries and pay for all the other household bills.
We know that education is an investment in our children’s future, and in the future of our great country, and it’s money well spent, but still there’s that dilemma on how you can balance the housekeeping to get all the stuff your child needs to be prepared and equipped for school.
It’s predicted that school budgets will continue to be cut year on year, which means more of the responsibility will fall on cash-strapped families to supply more and more supplies, and schools will struggle to make their decreasing budgets stretch further.
So where does that leave you? Between a rock and a hard place most likely. Where can you go to let help?
We’ve pulled together some information to guide you in the direction of where to get free school equipment, uniform, computers and software to help you ensure your child has all the equipment he or she needs. Although we’ve classified some organizations into certain groups, most of them will be able to assist with more than one aspect of getting your child ready for school.
Free School Equipment
1. Community and District Support
Contact local churches, local charities and not-for-profit organizations, and research local distribution projects.
Some states require public school districts to provide necessary school supplies to children. Certain districts are also required to provide books and school supplies for children whose parents cannot otherwise afford them.
Include local radio stations in your contact list, as they often get to know of the freebie outlets ahead of time so that they can broadcast them on their show.
2. Kids in Need Foundation
Although this network doesn’t supply charities, schools or individuals, they do donate school supplies to the Resource Centers in our National Network across the country. Resource Centers are where our teachers go to ‘shop’ for their free supplies to teach their students. So although you won’t be able to go direct here and get supplies yourself, unless you’re a teacher from a qualifying school, a teacher may be able to get supplies for you.
These ‘shopping’ opportunities are available to teachers from pre-qualified schools where at least 70 percent of the student body is eligible for the federal free and reduced lunch program. If you’re kid’s school falls in this category, you may be able to benefit here through your kid’s teacher.
Make an appointment to speak to your child’s teacher and explain the list of things you need help with, to see whether they would be able to get some supplies for you.
Find out more about Kids In Need Foundation at http://www.kinf.org/mission/
3. Volunteers of America
Volunteers of America is a non-for-profit organization that assists many groups of people in need. They have particularly good care programs for children and young adults to ensure that children from families facing hardship don’t go without school essentials. Through participation in the Scholastic Book Grants Program, the Volunteers of America reaches out to the nation’s at-risk children and has participated in the program since 1999. Since that time, Scholastic has provided Volunteers of America with over one million books which the organization has provided to children in their programs and communities in 30 states.
Find out more at http://www.voa.org/children-youth-and-families#sthash.R8nntTOx.dpuf
4. United Way
United Way runs numerous programs and is committed to ensuring young people get a head-start in education, from the early learning years right through to graduation. They provide assistance with support, learning tools and materials so that students have the best chance to succeed.
Find out if their current programs can help you, at http://www.unitedway.org/our-impact/focus/education
Did you know that Craiglist.org doesn’t just sell stuff at a bargain prices, they also have some items listed as free. On the ‘for sale’ section, search for the free items and see what you can find. You need to search regularly, and get in quick, as you won’t be the only one after the freebies.
Freecycle.org is a community that connects people who want to get items off their hands, with people who want their stuff. See if Freecycle have a group local to you.
Find your local branch at www.freecycle.org
6. Organize a Supplies Exchange at School
I bet most of the other parents are faced with just the same dilemma as you. Here’s the deal. Chat some of the parents at the school and see if they’re willing to form school supplies exchange. If you can find a space (maybe the school or kids’ club can let you some space in the hallway) you could get together with other parents and organize local exchange store in the community.
Get the word out, and see if your school or club will help with posting leaflets around. Ask families to come along and bring new/gently-used supplies. House rule is they can exchange on a one for one item.
Free Computer Equipment and Software for Homework Projects
1. Adopt a Computer
There are a number of computer recycling organizations that collect, refurbish and recycle computers and other hardware. They put this equipment out for ‘adoption’ which, for you and your kid, means you get some equipment for free. There’s a condition. In return, your child needs to volunteer some time back with the recycler, usually just a day or two, as payment in kind. The volunteering will involve helping them sort through parts, help fix things and general help around building equipment. So, there’s an added bonus here, as your kid gets to learn new skills which is great for their development and for their resumē.
One such recycler is FreeGeek , which is based in Portland. Check for similar places near to you. Services and terms may vary.
If there’s not a computer adoption scheme near you, you may be able to start one up with other parents and some of the college IT geeks.
If your child is 13 years of age or older, they may qualify to receive a free version of Microsoft Office 365 for Students. Applications include Word, Excel, Power Point and more. You will need to sign up and provide details of the school or college.
If you kid is into photo editing or graphic design, but you can’t afford Photoshop, Gimp could be a good free substitute. Gimp is a free photo software that is a great alternative to Photoshop. Find out more at www.gimp.org/downloads/
Free School Clothing
1. Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) – Government Assistance
Depending on your status and income, you may be able to get assistance to buy your kid’s school clothing under the TANF program. The criteria will vary from state to state but you must either be pregnant, or be the parent/guardian of a minor. Check your eligibility for assistance with the TANF agency in the area in which you currently reside. You’ll need to apply to your own State and you can start the application process at http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/ofa/help
More information on the program and local contacts can be found at http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/ofa/programs/tanf
2. Second Hand School Uniform
If your child attends a school that has its own school uniform, then that may limit your options a little, depending on how relaxed the school is about deviation from the uniform.
It’s probably best to start by contacting the school first. Two reasons here; firstly, they may have a collection of gently-used uniform items from students who have outgrown clothing, which have been donated to the school for folks who can use them, moms and dads just like you and, secondly, if they can’t provide any free items, you may be able to speak to them about whether it’s acceptable for you to source alternative free items elsewhere, providing you keep to the school colors. If that’s permitted, then great, you’re ready to go freebie hunting.
3. Local charities and churches
Here you should be able to find lots of stuff which has been donated, in the way of standard style school shirts and tops, pants, sweaters and other items. Another plus of local charities is that it’s likely you’ll find the uniform of the school you need, where other families have decluttered and have donated their own kids’ school stuff. If it vaguely resembles the style and color of your kid’s school uniform, snap it up.