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Amid surging inflation, midstate nonprofits are helping parents find back-to-school supplies

The Salvation Army Harrisburg Capital City Region says it is assisting a record number of families this year

  • Gabriela Martínez
This is a display of back to school backpacks in a Target store in Pittsburgh Wednesday, July 18, 2018.

 Gene J. Puskar / Associated Press

This is a display of back to school backpacks in a Target store in Pittsburgh Wednesday, July 18, 2018.

Parents shopping for backpacks, new clothes and shoes for the new school year are feeling the strain of higher prices. 

Roslyn Copeland of Harrisburg, a mother of three, works for the state and serves on the Harrisburg School District board. She says it has been difficult to balance different financial responsibilities.

“Everything’s going up,” Copeland said. “It’s been really hard choosing to either pay for supplies, clothing, or pay bills.”

According to a nationwide survey by Morning Consult, only 36 percent of parents say they can afford back to school supplies — compared to  52 percent last year. Another national survey by the real estate and retail management firm JLL says more than half of parents in the country are planning to cut back on back-to-school spending.

Copeland’s daughter started the school year at a private arts school in Harrisburg that requires uniforms. Since covering the cost of the garments has been difficult, she and other parents have created a network to donate old or gently used uniforms.

She has relied on back-to-school giveaway events in the community, including one next month. On Sept. 10, she plans to go to a back-to-school block party organized by Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Capital Region. The organization offers mentorship programs for young people.

courtesy of Big Brothers Big Sisters of the capital Region.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Capital Region’s back-to-school event last year.

But before that, the nonprofit is hosting a supply drive event Saturday and will be gathering backpacks, lunchboxes, notebooks, binders, pens and pencils. People can drop off items in donation bins at the mall until Sept. 6.

“We do serve a lot of families that have economic challenges and deal with different challenges in their life, so they may be encountering challenges with the economy,” said Krystina Shultz, marketing and communications manager from Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Capital Region. “But for us, every year there’s a need.”

Angel Bazemore of Harrisburg, who works as a medical assistant and is studying to be a nurse, has a seven-year-old in school. Like Copeland, she is grappling with higher retail prices and expensive gas.

“I really have to watch. I have to make sure that all of the needs are met for my children and keep a roof over their head at all times, all the bills get paid, and everything’s done,” Bazemore said.

She says it is a relief her church — The Journey Church in Harrisburg — is having its annual school supply and clothing giveaway event, which will include other perks such as food and free ice cream.

Lauren Sheeler of the Salvation Army Harrisburg Capital City Region says the organization is assisting a record number of families this year compared to prior years, and is still receiving requests. This year, the organization received 359 applications for help. Last year, it received 280.

“These are all children in Dauphin, Cumberland and Perry county, who are at least 180% of the poverty level,” Sheeler said.

Bright Side Opportunities Center, a nonprofit that provides services to youth in Lancaster City, is hosting a back-to-school sneaker giveaway on Aug. 27. Since supplies are limited, parents have to register to pick up a pair of sneakers before the event. 

Aida Rodriguez, an administrative assistant at the center, said the first 100 sneakers she advertised were claimed in the first two hours, and she continually gets calls from parents asking if more are available. The center is seeking more donations to buy more sneakers to give away at the event.

While the peak of the back-to-school shopping season has passed, some nonprofits are still helping parents in the region:


Gabriela Martínez is part of the “Report for America” program — a national service effort that places journalists in newsrooms across the country to report on under-covered topics and communities.

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