The Huffington Post
August 16, 2012
For the 21 million children who go hungry during the summer months without free school lunch, September signals an end to searing stomach pangs. But it also raises concerns about what they will wear on the backs and stuff in their knapsacks.
According to the U.S. Census, between the years of 2000 and 2010, the percentage of children living in poverty increased by nearly a third, but academic figures improved. More high school students graduated on time and more children attended preschool in 2010 than in 2005.
But as more poor students make their way back to school, they'll have to grapple with the typical anxieties related to bullying and math homework, and how they will fit in if they can't afford new clothes or school supplies. Though nonprofits are strapped in this tough economy, their resources may be best maximized if focused on young, disadvantaged kids, experts say.
"The best investments you can make are putting a child on the path to success early," Patrick McCarthy, the Annie E. Casey Foundation's president and CEO, told the Huffington Post last month. "That means early childhood interventions, high-quality preschool, investing in family supports, and home visiting. Those first eight years are essential."
As the first day of classes quickly creeps up, nonprofits across the country are realizing how critical of a role they play in giving disadvantaged kids the basics -- and the confidence -- they need to succeed in academics. So, they're already organizing innovative and efficient ways of getting their student-clients geared up to get excited to go back to school.
Earlier this month, for example, more than 500 needy children, ages 5 to 11, spent the afternoon in a New-Jersey-synagogue-turned-cost-free-department-store, picking up all the essentials to kick off the school year right. The National Council of Jewish Women Essex County Section's (NCJW) event distinguishes itself from similar programs in that it gives the kids a chance, for at least one afternoon, to taste the feeling of what it's like to be a "normal" kid.
The children, who are paired with a personal shoppers, make their way through the abundance of neatly stacked shelves and racks of colorful backpacks and jackets and calculators and select the color and sizes that suit them best. It's a dignified customer experience that doesn't require burrowing through baskets in a dank basement or simply accepting a hand-me-down that's three sizes too big, just because it's free.
"I loved seeing their eyes light up when they realized they could pick whatever they wanted," Jaime Ebright, a volunteer, said in a press release. "It was a real reminder of how fortunate we all are."
Over in Washington, Caring For Kids recently dispensed schools supplies and clothes to 3,000 kids in need, and makes sure to keep costs down so that the kids remain the main focus, University Place Patch reports. Besides paying for the van that carts the nonprofit's goods around, the organization's only other major expense is forking over $1,200 for storage space.
But charities aren't the only ones making sure that kids feel fresh and excited to walk through the halls on the very first day of school.
Each time a child under 18 got a haircut at one of 900 participating Hair Cuttery salons during the first two weeks of August, a kid in need earned a free service, according to Watertown Patch. The Hair Cuttery estimated that it doled out 75,000 haircuts to disadvantaged youth.
"We're proud to offer this program that gives children the opportunity to help other kids in the community," Dennis Ratner, CEO of Hair Cuttery, told the news outlet. "A simple haircut can make a big difference in a child's appearance and gives students more confidence as they start the school year."