Easing the Back-to-School Burden


According to a recent survey by Deloitte, people are expected to spend $27 billion dollars across the U.S. this back-to-school season. Yep. You read that correctly—$27 billion with an average spending of $500 per student. This $500 includes school supplies, clothing, computers and hardware, and electronics. Long gone are the days of a few folders, no. 2 pencils, wide-ruled paper, and a backpack.    

Now, take a second to put yourself in the shoes of a parent in our City’s poorest communities. In Brownsville, Brooklyn, the median household income is approximately $28,000. And in the Mott Haven community of the South Bronx that figure slides to a mere $22,000. You have a job, but it’s not enough. You barely cover the basics—rent, food, utilities, transportation, etc. That $500 sounds flat-out tough, right? Even to buy standard school supplies you’re looking at a little over $100. But you’re determined to get your child what he or she needs for the classroom. You won’t have it any other way. You’ll make the tough budget decisions to make it happen.


Now, put your own shoes back on and tune into your heart and mind. What do you remember about your first days of grade school? How did you feel—nervous, excited, happy…cool in your new backpack thanks to mom and dad?

Why should back-to-school be such a burden for some? Shouldn’t every kid get a chance at walking in confidently that first day? Shouldn’t their parents have the ability to make that chance happen?

As we work long-term not only to alleviate poverty in NYC but also to shape a city where all New Yorkers can live self-sufficiently for generations to come, we can’t overlook the immediate challenges and their domino effects. Challenges like back-to-school costs for families living in our poorest communities. Kids’ educational success and their parents’ power to drive it will steer them toward more financially stable futures, where, as adults, they’ll be able to build strong families and communities.     

So what can we do? What can we do right now to help families have a good first day of school?  

We can rally our resources and fight for their chance together.

Women's Leadership Council volunteers stuffing donated backpacks.

Right now, we’re running our annual “Build a Backpack, Grow a Reader” back-to-school drive, where our corporate and individual supporters are coming together to help us bring a few thousand backpacks brimming with supplies to students at our ReadNYC and EducateNYC partner schools in Brownsville and Mott Haven.    

As part of these ongoing efforts, 20 of our corporate partners are collecting hoards of school supplies at their offices, and volunteers are stuffing backpacks left and right with them. To date, our friends at Cummins, Inc. and National Grid have packed more than 650 backpacks. And members of our Women’s Leadership Council and Young Leaders Council teamed up to ready 515 backpacks.

Young Leaders Council volunteers tackling mountains of donated school supplies.

Though our back-to-school drive is ending soon, you can still help. Share this post to raise awareness to the real costs of back-to-school. Or, donate—even the smallest gift can go a long way.    

And know that because of your willingness to fight, families living in our poorest communities will get their chance at an exciting, feel-good first day of school—their kids outfitted with the tools they need to walk confidently into the classroom.