Aug 8, 2022 - News

Arizona nonprofits help students in need with back-to-school supplies

Illustration of a pattern for backpacks.
Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

Sending a student back to school is expensive, and those costs often force students from low-income families to begin the year without the supplies and clothing they need.

The big picture: The BHHS Legacy Foundation, Back-to-School Clothing Drive, Assistance League of Phoenix and other nonprofit organizations help low-income families with their back-to-school needs.

Why it matters: The 2020 census found that 19.1% of Arizona children lived below the poverty line.

How it works: The nonprofits generally reach students by working with Title I schools that identify their kids with the highest level of need.

What's happening: The BHHS Legacy Foundation is primarily a funder of programs that assist low-income students with back-to-school needs.

  • They have their Backpack Buddies program. It provides about 8,000 backpacks full of school supplies and personal hygiene products, which are distributed to students by about 35 other nonprofit groups it partners with.
  • CEO Gerald Wissink said the foundation reaches about 20,000 students per year through all of its programs and financial contributions.

Back-to-School Clothing Drive primarily serves elementary schools across the Valley. It holds a summer distribution event every year at Grand Canyon University, and has several other programs that provide clothing year-round to both schools and the general public.

  • Executive Director Karl Gentles tells Axios Phoenix that the organization works with about 260 schools in more than 30 districts and assists nearly 15,000 students per year.

Assistance League of Phoenix has three Delivering Dreams buses, which CEO Aimee Runyon described as stores on wheels where students can obtain free clothing and supplies.

  • "We want them to feel good about what they're wearing," Runyon says. "They want to fit in with their peers. They want to feel good about themselves."

What they're saying: "Many of them just don't have the funds," Wissink says of the families his organization helps. "These kids end up going to school with holes in their shoes. Some of them have one outfit to wear for the entire week. Some of these families are just struggling."

  • The most shocking thing Runyon says she's ever heard was from a student on one of her group's buses who'd just received a personal hygiene kit: "I'm so excited. Now I get my own toothbrush."

What's next: Though the nonprofits reach tens of thousands of students each year, there are many more who still need help. And that need is growing, they say.

  • Soaring inflation has made things even more difficult for families that were already struggling, Gentles says.
  • Runyon says her organization hopes to help 11,000 students this year, and the group's plans call for that number to hit 15,000 by 2025.
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