Salvation Army helps schoolers bash inflation

by Robert Mitchell

Kids going back to school is always tough on a family budget. There’s the stylish clothing, shoes, haircuts, school supplies—the list can be long and expensive.

So, this year Salvation Army corps officers in the USA Eastern Territory have discovered strategies to help struggling families bash the annual inflation rate, which was 8.5 percent for 12 months, ending in July 2022.

On Aug. 6, the Army’s Pittsburgh Temple offered a popular “Back to School Bash” that included a traditional backpack distribution, haircuts, a bounce house, gently used clothing, and lunch.

“We had a really good event again this year,” said Captain Justin Caldwell. “We helped about 300 kids get backpacks and school supplies.

“Many of the families said how big of a help this was for them right now. Gas was high for a while; I think that’s coming down a bit. But that cost really took a toll on families. Then there were the added expenses of just going back to school.”

Caldwell, who has two children of his own, knows how much sending kids back to school can break a budget.

“They grow out of their shoes so fast,” he said. “Every year they need new supplies and it just adds up. If families are living check to check, it just becomes a toll.”

Caldwell said a new choice food pantry at the corps, which helps 100-150 families a week, attracted 87 new people last month.

“The numbers are going up and some of the families from that pantry came to get backpacks,” Caldwell said.

In Toledo, Ohio, The Salvation Army distributed 1,200 backpacks through its “Stuff the Bus” program with the help of local partners, including ABC affiliate WTVG-TV. The first event was to collect supplies at Dave White Chevrolet with a school bus.

“People would drive by and drop off school supplies,” said Laura Henthorn, a volunteer and events coordinator for The Salvation Army’s Northwest Ohio Area Services. “We just went out to their car and got the supplies and put them on the bus.”

Henthorn said other participating businesses displayed collection boxes. Volunteers came a few days before the early August distribution began to sort and pack 4,700 items such as notebooks, binders, pens, pencils, erasers crayons, colored pencils, and scissors for grades K-12.

Henthorn said inflation created an urgent situation for families in Toledo.

“We see an increase in need every year,” she said. “[The distribution] takes a lot of pressure off the parents. They know they may have to provide some supplies, but their kids are going into school with brand-new backpacks they can be proud of and excited about, and new supplies. So, they don’t feel like they’re going empty-handed or unprepared.”

The Salvation Army in Concord, N.H., continued a long tradition of giving away 250 “fully loaded” backpacks containing items such as hand sanitizer, earbuds, and thumb drives, said Major Rick Starkey. The effort was in cooperation with the Capital Region Board of Realtors and Staples.

“We just give them out as we can and we sometimes have leftovers that we then give out at Christmastime,” Starkey said.

The corps workers didn’t notice a tremendous increase in need because other agencies in New Hampshire’s capital city also hold back–to–school events.

In New London, Conn., corps officers took 53 children from the Army’s Boys & Girls Club to the Adidas store in nearby Clinton in mid-August. The kids got new shoes, and lunch. They then went to the Old Navy store in Waterford’s Crystal Mall.

“Each kid walked away with a brand-new pair of shoes and a first-day outfit for school,” said Captain Brandon Gonzalez-Cotrell. “They were surprised and happy to have new shoes on the first day. They stepped with confidence.”

Reynolds Subaru and the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun funded the effort. The team plays about 15 minutes from New London at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville.

“We’ve had a pretty good relationship with them, starting last fall,” Gonzalez-Cotrell said. “They have taken a liking to many of our children. They have provided funding for this event and tickets for our children.”

The Salvation Army in Massillon, Ohio, held a back-to-school bash that helped 367 children, grades K-12. The festive event included Popcorn, cotton candy, and face-painting.

“We went back to in-person this year and we tried to make it as fun for the family as possible,” said Captain Allison Hinzman. “It was well-received. People had a great time.”

Children took home a backpack full of supplies, and vouchers for shoes and a haircut. They also could choose from donated clothing for that special outfit.

Hinzman said she and husband, Captain Breenen Hinzman, also provided an opportunity for everyone attending to submit prayer requests and to “meet our church.” Each child received a “Pop It” fidget toy that included a message, which reminded them that members of The Salvation Army were praying for them as the school year started.

“My husband and I are adamant that, in everything we do, we should tell them who we are,” she said. “We are a church.”