For families with young children, shopping for school supplies is a bittersweet ritual that states clearly that summer vacation is almost over.

For too many families with young children, however, it’s often an exercise in balancing expenses that, even for relatively small purchases, has the potential to put a hole in the budget. While the National Retail Federation recently reported that a family of K-12 students will spend $688 on back to school supplies this year, the National Center for Children in Poverty states that nearly 15 million children in the U.S. – 21% of all children – live in families with incomes below the federal poverty level of $22,350 a year for a family of four for 2012. Keep in mind that most public assistance programs designed to help these families do not cover the cost of back to school supplies. That’s why many Leagues and their members pull together at this time each year to help needy families prepare for the first day of school.

Here are just a few examples of Junior League back-to-school initiatives:

  • For 18 years, the Junior League of Longview’s School Supply Train has rolled through Longview giving out backpacks and school supplies to qualified low-income schoolchildren. With the generous support of donors and community partners, JLL has given out over 48,000 backpacks over the life of the program. This year alone $50,000 worth of backpacks and age-appropriate school supplies were distributed in just one weekend. In addition to school supplies, children receive free dental and eye exams, haircuts, and childhood immunizations. And, for the first time this year, a generous gift by Martin Midstream Partners provided the funds for school uniforms, available on a first come, first serve basis.
  • Now in its 5th year, the Junior League of Schenectady and Saratoga Counties’ Operation Back-to-School is providing a full year of school supplies to eligible children at two schools in the Schenectady City School District. Students receive a new backpack filled with all of the school supplies needed to get the year started right. In order to do this, teachers provided JLSSC with a list of supplies students would need for their class. The initiative is made possible by generous grants from the Broughton Foundation, Stewart’s, the Wright Family Foundation, CDPHP, Troy Savings Bank and Fedelis Care.
  • The Junior League of Lufkin’s 2nd annual Back to School Bonanza provides free backpacks filled with school supplies as well as updated immunizations, dental screening, vision screening and haircuts to eligible Angelina County schoolchildren, from pre-K through high school. Community partners include the First United Methodist Church of Lufkin along with Buckner Children & Family Services, Angelina Pediatrics, and The Children’s Clinic. Services are also provided by many community volunteers, including local hairdressers and barbers and dentists.
  • The Junior League of the Palm Beaches’ Back To School Bash is a 501c3 not-for-profit organization through which JLPB collaborates with other nonprofit organizations throughout Palm Beach County that serve disadvantaged students, pre-K through 12th grade, by providing supplies, backpacks, information and resources to empower children to begin the school year with confidence. At the annual event, each child is paired with a personal shopper who guides them through a “store” of new school supplies. The kids have the opportunity to select grade-appropriate items, including backpacks, pens, pencils and other much-needed supplies.
  • Backpack Buddies is one of the key projects of the 2012-2013 Provisional class of the Junior League of Jackson. Provisionals get ready to kick off a successful new school year by filling backpacks with school supplies for eligible students in Jackson public schools.
  • Since 2003, the Junior League of Colorado Springs’ CARE (Community Assistance Resource Event) Fair has provided free backpacks and school supplies as well as immunizations, physicals and dental, hearing, and vision screenings. The initiative has served more than 3,000 uninsured children aged 4-18 years.
  • The Junior League of Columbia’s Smart Supplies program provides eligible students with notebooks, backpacks, and other supplies as game prizes during its Healthy Start back-to-school celebrations. Healthy Start works with children and their families to help improve the mind, body, and spirit by promoting literacy and reading, providing health and safety information, and helping parents get involved in the schools and in their children’s lives.
  • The Junior League of Bryan-College Station’s annual Stuff the Bus School Supply Drive will provide free school supplies to children who are eligible for the free or reduced lunch programs in both the Bryan and College Station Independent School districts. As the Signature Project of the Junior League of Bryan-College Station, Stuff the Bus hopes to provide school supplies to over 16,000 students in Bryan-College Station this Fall. Together with community partners, the Junior League has successfully distributed supplies to over 100,000 students since the project began in 2000. From start to finish, this project is executed by Junior League members.

For more information on what other Junior Leagues are doing to help ease back-to-school problems go here.