Kierra Parkins’ eyes lit up as she hoisted the brand new, pink plaid bookbag onto her small shoulder.
The 9-year-old eagerly unzipped the sack, revealing a collection of notebooks, pens and crayons just in time to start fourth grade next week. She was among more than a dozen children staying at St. Catherine’s Marillac Homeless Family Shelter in Albany who won’t have to show up to the first day of school empty-handed, thanks to the kindness of strangers.
“I want to learn and pay attention so I can go to the next grade,” Kierra beamed, still admiring her new bag.
Bookbag and school supply giveaways are common throughout the Capital Region as the school year starts. But with an anemic national economy and the rising cost of back-to-school materials, charities are finding an increase in demand.
“This year, the demand was even more,” said Bob Bascom, the Care Foundation coordinator for the Albany-based Capital Communications Credit Union, which distributed 210 backpacks at Marillac and several other area shelters Tuesday. “Organizations we have never even heard of before placed calls to us looking for backpacks.”
Even the student volunteers aiding the credit union’s effort this year noticed the rise in both demand and cost of supplies. Nicole McCormick, a Siena College sophomore who was in her third year helping out with the program, said she started to notice the cost of all the items in each backpack.
“It’s a lot of money,” she said. “You don’t think about it at first, because it’s only a couple of dollars, but it adds up.”
The National Retail Foundation estimated that spending on school-related supplies for kindergarten through 12th grade will reach $20.1 billion this year, up sharply from the $18.4 billion spent in 2007. The foundation’s July survey found that the average family with school-age children in the Northeast will spend just under $100 on supplies such as notebooks, folders, pencils, backpacks and lunch boxes.
For the increasing population relying on Albany’s Equinox Youth Shelter, these are difficult expenses. Program Director Daquetta Jones said more than 150 adolescents and young adults have applied for the shelter’s program, which requires them to attend some form of schooling.
“School supplies are going up,” she said. “And the older the children are, the more the supplies are going to cost.”
In Schenectady, the City Mission will distribute more than 300 filled backpacks this year to various outreach organizations. Executive Director Michael Saccocio said the number is about the same as last year, which was also busy.
Saccocio said he continues to field calls about the back-to-school supplies and even occasionally gets children stopping by the mission to see if bookbags are offered. Just this week, he said nearly a dozen children stopped by looking for supplies.
“It’s coming from all directions, so clearly there’s a need,” he said.
The Schenectady Community Action Program will be among the agencies helping to distribute some of the mission’s backpacks Friday afternoon, along with the Troy-based state Fraternal Order of Police. Homeless Intervention and Prevention Coordinator Donna Gonzalez said she’s had a first-hand glimpse of the families that will be depending on the back-to-school supplies as they’ve registered with community action.
“We’re always busy, but the demand has increased this year,” she said. “We have a great need.”
At the Marillac shelter in Albany, director Louise Mara has watched the stress level of residential families increase as the school year approaches. She said the arrival of the donated backpacks seems to bring a ray of hope to the shelter.
“It’s a big deal,” she said. “It really raises the spirits of families around here.”