ST. LOUIS — As August comes to an end, most students will be back in session for the start of the 2022-23 school year. And this school year is already packed with challenges thanks to the economy.
The average family will spend more than $860 on school supplies this year. Many families are waiting until the last minute to buy much-needed school supplies as they wait for late deals or see what resources are available to them.
In the meantime, there are many community groups trying to pull off massive school supply drives in the 11th hour.
KidSmart, a group based in Maryland Heights, is gearing up for its $1 Million Distribution Day on August 24 at Ballpark Village in downtown St. Louis. The group's mission is to equip every child in Missouri with learning tools by the year 2032.
"It's hard work, but it's an amazing experience," said Mike Smith, the vice president of operations for KidSmart.
It's been a tough year or two with the pandemic, the economy, recent flooding, the rising cost of goods and inflation.
"Our drives have never really returned to pre-COVID," said Smith. "So cost [due to] inflation is definitely an issue."
The KidSmart warehouse will eventually become a free store for teachers to pick up supplies for their classrooms. As it stands now, the organization provides supplies like pens, paper, folders and backpacks to a number of registered school districts in the St. Louis area. Their goal now is to reach 90,000 students. The group is able to do this thanks to corporate sponsors, donations and drives.
Students, volunteers and even corporate groups show up to serve at the warehouse to pack cardboard boxes full of supplies – some pack classroom kits that are essential to any classroom.
"This just cuts out that process for everybody else," said Rylan. "It makes it easier for them."
Rylan is a rising junior at Lafayette High School. He worked with a civic group to help pack many boxes knowing that a few of his peers rely on donated school supplies. He said he can see how feeling prepared for school also helps with building confidence and self-esteem.
Smith said kids see a 70% boost in self-esteem when they have access to quality school supplies.
"It just lights up their face," said Rylan. "It really just helps them out."
It turns out families need help. The National Retail Federation said 42% of parents are still waiting for sales, while 35% are buying generics and 24% are re-using supplies.
The crunch impacts every single district as teachers pay more for supplies out of their own pockets. It is clear, there is a need everywhere.
"Even in some of the more lucrative school districts, there's a disconnect and a struggle," said Smith.
He said he knows teachers in districts that are well-supported still buying supplies with their own money – something that is well-known among teachers.
Even though KidSmart is a large resource for St. Louis area families, Smith said the battle is still raising awareness. If you're a parent and are worried about school supplies, the best way to get help from KidSmart is by encouraging your teachers to make the connection.
"Get a hold of their teachers," said Smith. "Make sure they're aware of us. We've been around for this over 20 years, so there is some awareness, but we still find new teachers that haven't heard of Kidsmart and are eligible for supplies."
Here is a list of other donation events happening in the St. Louis area:
And there are still supply drives happening:
KidSmart will also do its $1 Million Distribution Day August 24 at Ballpark Village. Set up will begin at noon near Clark Street. Registered teachers only are able to pick up supplies, though there may still be time to register.