Local businesses pitch in for school supplies
Wesley Filer, 10, and Aaliyah Burke, 6, discuss a school supply trade after a backpack giveaway Thursday at the Salvation Armys New Kensington Worship and Service Center.
Aaliyah Burke, 6, looks through her new backpack after a giveaway Thursday at the Salvation Army?s New Kensington Worship and Service Center.
Aaliyah Burke, 6, left, and Olivia Robertson, 6, pick out backpacks during a giveaway Thursday at the Salvation Army's New Kensington Worship and Service Center.
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Back-to-school costs are expected to increase this year, according to one index, but local corporations and nonprofits are stepping in to help low-income families equip their children for schools.
Huntington Bank's annual "backpack index" predicts that middle school costs per student will see the largest increase, rising from $684 to $724, a 5.8 percent increase. However, high school costs are the most expensive, projected at $1,117 per student, up from $1,093 in 2011, a 2.2 percent increase. Costs per elementary student will increase 3.4 percent from $530 to $548.
Those increases come on top of the 2011 increase that reached as high as 25 percent in some areas where districts instituted pay-to-play fees. This year an increase in musical instrument rental fees from an average of $299 to $345 was the largest hike in costs in the index.
Huntington compiles its index by obtaining classroom supply lists and fees from a cross-section of schools in the six states that it serves and researches the costs of the items at moderately priced retailers through their online sites.
Huntington has partnered with the Salvation Army of Western Pennsylvania to provide backpacks with school supplies to 1,200 students in the area, with distributions held last week in Homewood and New Kensington.
Those distributions are among dozens that will be held throughout the region by various corporations and organizations in the coming weeks, including a joint effort by Citizens Bank and the Homeless Children's Education Fund, called Gear for Grades, which will provide 2,300 children in Western Pennsylvania with new backpacks and school supplies and South Hills Interfaith Ministries back-to-school supply distribution which will provide backpacks full of school supplies to about 350 children whose families are served by the agency.
"These are little things, but they do add up," said David G. Hammer, Pittsburgh regional president of Huntington Bank, which has been calculating the index and distributing backpacks for the past four years.
Justin Brown, executive director of The Education Partnership, which will provide school supplies to classroom teachers in 16 schools in Allegheny, Beaver and Butler counties where 85 percent or more of the students qualify for free or reduced lunches, said the costs in the Huntington index reflect what his organization sees as it purchases goods for its distributions.
"We definitely sense it," Mr. Brown said.
The partnership's back-to-school distribution is going on until Aug. 18 and allows for teachers in the 16 schools to pick up such items as pencils, crayons, notebooks, glue sticks and construction paper for the start of school. Last year it distributed $750,000 in school supplies throughout the year.
Michelle Brittner, an unemployed, single mother from Harrison, said she struggles each year trying to provide back-to-school supplies and clothes for her son, Zachary, 9, who will enter third grade at Grandview Upper Elementary this fall. Zachary was able to choose a new purple backpack with a few school supplies at the Huntington distribution in New Kensington last week. The Salvation Army will provide additional school supplies, she said.
"I was so grateful. I had no idea how I was going to be able to supply that. He was thrilled knowing that he was actually getting it and didn't have to use the one from last year," Ms. Brittner said, explaining that the straps were broken on the backpack that Zachary has carried for the past year and a half. "Now all I have to worry about is getting him clothes for school."
In addition to the school supply distributions, Goodwill of Southwestern Pennsylvania will hold a back-to-school sale Wednesday and Thursday during which the prices of all donated clothing will be reduced by 25 percent at its 30 stores.
Goodwill spokesman David Tobiczyk said this year marks the second time for the back-to-school sale. Last year's one-day sale was so popular that it was extended to two days this year.
"Last year it was very, very popular. The economy has definitely brought a lot of new faces into Goodwill," Mr. Tobiczyk said.
The stores are still taking donations and can often get donated goods onto the store floor for sale within a day, he said.
The Gear for Grades initiative is also still accepting donations of new pencils, folders, glue, notebooks and other school supplies at Citizens Banks through Friday.
At South Hills Interfaith Ministries in Bethel Park, the need for backpacks filled with school supplies has increased with the number of families served by the agency through its food bank and other programs. In 2007 the agency served 373 individuals in its two food pantries. By 2011 that number rose to 1,024, with 340 children receiving the back-to-school backpacks. Currently the agency is serving about 1,300 people and plans this week to distribute about 350 backpacks with about $46 worth of school supplies to children in its program.
"What we are doing is allowing kids to go back to school confident and ready to learn," said Ann Callen, community relations manager. "You don't want to be the kid coming back to school and not having what you need to learn and succeed."
First Published August 6, 2012 12:00 am