Back to School. Where to Give and Get Free Supplies

August 21, 2012 at 4:00 am

Next to the sale season that spans Black Friday to Christmas, back-to-school shopping is the country’s second biggest spending festival of the year, according to the National Retail Federation. This year, shoppers are expected to spend an average of $688 for back-to-school supplies.

Many organizations, from charities to cultural groups to eateries, are helping ease the financial for burden for parents and give kids a good start to their school year.  Here are some community giveaway events related to school supplies, as well as year-round material exchange programs that match those seeking donations with those who have surplus supplies or services to donate.

Free School Supply Giveaways for Families

Kids receive free backpacks at the Back-2-School event in 2011, Jersey City. Photo Courtesy of ICNA.

Back 2 School Giveaway, Citywide, Yonkers and Jersey City
This nationwide back-to-school giveaway campaign began when the New York chapter of the  Islamic Circle of North America [ICNA] held a local campaign in 2009, giving out free school bags filled with supplies for the new school year.  The goal is to help children throughout the country, no matter their race, religion or gender. The organizers have 25,000 school bags ready for this year’s distribution, which will be set up across 12 states and over 25 locations, including New York City and Jersey City. No registration is required.

  • Aug. 24, 5–7 p.m. at 3940 Broadway, Manhattan
  • Aug. 25, 10 a.m.–12 p.m. at Andalusia School, 380 Walnut St., Yonkers
  • Aug. 25, 1–3 p.m. at 2812 Voorhies Ave., Brooklyn
  • Aug. 25, 2–4 p.m. at MAS-UNY Bronx Muslim Center, 702  Rhinelander Ave., Bronx
  • Aug. 26, 11 a.m. — 1 p.m. at 1266 Bedford Ave., Brooklyn
  • Aug. 31, 5–7 p.m. at 25-15 Steinway St., Queens
  • Sept. 1, 2–5 p.m. at ICNA, 180 Ege Ave., Jersey City
  • Sept 2, 11 a.m.–1 p.m. at Albanian Islamic Cultural Center, 307 Victory Blvd., Staten Island
  • Sept. 2, 1–3 p.m. at 865 Coney Island Ave., Brooklyn

Get involved: Volunteer for the program’s future events by handing out school supplies and finding sponsors, or provide assistance through direct donations.


Kids, parents and Elmo enjoy a Habana Outpost block party in May 2012. Photo courtesy of Habana Outpost.

Habana Outpost, Brooklyn
After hosting kids events on its large patio all summer, Habana Outpost in Fort Greene, Brooklyn,  will send kids off to school with its fifth annual Back-to-School Bash on Labor Day.  The Latin eatery’s mission of bringing people together over food and good times includes respect for the arts, environment and community.  In addition to receiving free school supplies, kids can warm up their art class skills with activities involving recycled arts and crafts.
Date & Time: Sept. 3 (Labor Day), 11 a.m.-3 p.m. 
Location: 757 Fulton Street, Brooklyn


Poster of the "Family Affair" back-to-school party at Bronx Museum of the Arts.

Family Affair: Back to School, Bronx
All are welcomed at the “Family Affair” Back to School Drive at the Bronx Museum of the Arts, where free backpacks along with other school supplies will be given to children ages 12 and under.  One of the day’s partners is I Can Because I’m A Girl, founded by Flora “LaPoeta” Montes,  a native Bronx poet and a chef.  Stick around for food-making and arts activities that are part of  the afternoon.  All kids must be accompanied by a parent or guardian. It’s recommended to register in advance  online or by calling (718) 681-600 (ext.127).

Date & Time: Aug. 25, 1 — 4 p.m.
Location: The Bronx Museum of the Arts, 1040 Grand Concourse, Bronx
Get involved: Below are three locations where you can drop off donated supplies that will be distributed:

  • La Casa Azul Bookstore, 143 E. 103rd St., Manhattan
  • El Fogon Center for the Arts, 989 Home St., Bronx
  • The Bronx Museum of the Arts, 1040 Grand Concourse at 165th St., Bronx


Free Educational Supplies for Schools & Where to Donate


A teacher adds art prints to her shopping cart, stocking for the back-to-school season at MFTA's Long Island City warehouse. Photo courtesy of MFTA.

Materials for the Arts
Materials for the Arts (MFTA), run by NYC Department of Cultural Affairs, provides thousands of the city’s arts and cultural organizations, public schools and community arts programs with the supplies they need to run and expand their programs. All materials are collected from companies and individuals who no longer need them but want to make them available to artists and educators for free. The program only serves organizations in the five boroughs of New York City. Registered organization are invited to make an appointment to “shop” the Long Island City warehouse on Tuesday mornings and Thursday afternoons. MFTA also has a  shopping evening on the first Monday of every month.


NYC WasteMatch

NYC WasteMatch doesn’t pass waste around but actually prevents waste. Created and funded by the NYC Dept. of Sanitation, this website facilitates the exchange of used and surplus goods and equipment between organizations that no longer need them to others that do. Schools and other qualified organizations can directly ask for needed items on the listings page, and if you happen to have something available, don’t hesitate to let others know. This waste-match approach lowers both the purchase and waste disposal cost, and also helps reduce the environmental impact. Since starting in 1997, NYC WasteMatch estimates it has kept over 25,000 tons of materials out of landfills and helped participants achieve $4 million in savings and revenues.


If you or your company have goods or services to donate to a New York City public school, list them on the PENCIL Box, where a deserving school can easily search for  items in the online database. The site collects all kinds of items ranging from computer equipment to consulting services. Books, musical instruments, furniture, computers, science equipment and art supplies are among the resources always in demand. If you’d like to get further involved with school partnerships, the core mission of PENCIL Box is to match business volunteers with school principals and to provide students with career readiness training through internships and more.


A group of students express their gratitude to the donors after receiving needed supplies. Photo courtesy of Donors Choose.

Donors Choose
This online nationwide charity plugged by Oprah and Stephen Colbert is the brainchild of a former Bronx social studies teacher, now the CEO of Donors Choose. Charles Best and his colleagues were frustrated with the scarcity of learning materials available to their students and often spent their own money on extra supplies. Since 2000, Donors Choose has given teachers and students a broader network of support. Public school teachers post project requests on the site, and donors can browse and give any amount to the one that inspires them. Once the project reaches its funding goal, the site will deliver the materials to the school. All donors can track how each dollar was spent, receive photos of the project taking place, and handwritten thank you letters from the teachers or students.

Adopt A Classroom

By registering at Adopt-A-Classroom, teachers can post their classrooms available for donors to select. All donations are directed to the teacher in the form of online credit, which can be used at affiliate vendors partnered with the organization, such as OfficeMax. Once adopted, the teacher purchases resources to meet the classroom needs, and the process is entirely transparent to donors as well.


In our comments section, please add your tips and suggestions about organizations or services that help provide supplies and services to schools, teachers and students in need.


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