For most families, back-to-school season means shopping for new backpacks, school supplies and clothes. Yet, many American children attend school without basic supplies or even shoes.
Families living on American Indian reservations and in Appalachia — a region extending from New York to Mississippi — face extreme poverty. It’s not a matter of uncontrollable spending, but of homes without running water or electricity, families without food, and children without warm clothes, shoes or access to basic health care.
Children rarely escape poverty if they are unable to attend school, and certain charitable organizations are working to help these families receive the necessary supplies so that their children may have a proper education. One non-profit organization, Running Strong for American Indian Youth (www.indianyouth.org), funds several programs on the most impoverished Indian reservations. The program supplies basic school supplies like backpacks, pens, paper, pencils, scissors, crayons, erasers, glue, rulers, sharpeners and notebooks to children in need. In 2008, Running Strong donated school supplies to 3,383 children in seven states.
Running Strong’s Back-Pack Food Program at the Takini School on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation makes sure that children do not go hungry on weekends, when they don’t eat a meal at school. Every Friday, volunteers fill 200 children’s backpacks with food.
“We have noticed that the whole family is able to survive off the food, so we now include items for the whole family,” said Food Bank Manager Anthony Hanson.
In Appalachia, the non-profit group Americans Helping Americans (www.helpingamericans.org) runs its “Bare Feet” program to take children shopping for new shoes. As a result, over 1,212 children enjoy a warmer, safer walk to school.
Parents shopping for back-to-school supplies might want to consider using last year’s lunchbox or backpack, and try donating the difference to one of the organizations working to improve the lives of America’s most impoverished schoolchildren.