As we approach the end of July, around 60 million kindergarten through 12th-grade public, private and homeschool students across the U.S. are preparing to leave their summer vacation behind to hit the books once again as the 2019-2020 academic year nears.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, a projected 3.2 million full-time teachers are set to fill the close to 133,000 elementary, secondary and combined campuses that make up the 14,000 or so regular school districts across the U.S., all of which have their own classroom supply list for families to purchase before sending their child back to school this fall.

Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited, one of the largest accounting organizations in the world, conducted a back-to-school survey for 2019. The company found that spending this fall is expected to reach $27.8 billion, clothing and accessories to bring in $15.0 billion, school supplies representing about $6.1 billion.

Public schools in the state of Arkansas represent about 478,400 of that overall 60 million enrollment rate, according to the department of education.

Of that more than 450,000 or 63.45 percent of students quality for free and reduced lunches.

In the U.S. it’s estimated 1 in 5 children under 18 lives in poverty. A recent survey from Junior Achievement, a national nonprofit, revealed that 60 percent of parents have said that it’s a challenge to afford school supplies – but, if they can’t afford it, who will?

A report from the National Center on Education Statistics showed that 94 percent of public school teachers spend their own money on supplies for their students, averaging around $479, increasing in areas where students who qualify for that reduced lunch is higher.

As academia needs evolve, organizations are trying to step up to help ease that burden for community members, including the United Way of Central Arkansas, through its annual Stuff the Bus campaign.

This is the nonprofits 20th year to host the supply drive and will partner with Kona Ice, Walmart and Y107 to help families in need provide backpacks with school supplies for children in Faulkner, Perry and Van Buren counties.

Last year, donors brought in more than 26,000 items – valued at $80,000.

The program gives community members the opportunity to get involved by donating new school supplies to benefit children in the area. While many parents are enjoying their children’s summer vacation, some are already concerned about the cost of purchasing school supplies, the program designed to help alleviate some of that burden.

“Help us in giving children in need the supplies to succeed,” officials posted to the United Way of Central Arkansas Facebook page. “We need your help to provide students from low-income families with new school supplies, preparing them for their academic studies, building their self-esteem, and setting them up for success.

“By making a gift to United Way’s Stuff the Bus, you’re helping ensure that our most at-risk kids have everything they need to start the school year off ready to learn.”

The nonprofit has partnered with several businesses in the community for help. Each that signed up got a box to keep at their company’s location from July 22 to Aug. 3. Those who want to donate school supplies can stop by any of the locations and drop off the items, but also from 8 a.m to 3 p.m. on Aug. 3, volunteers will be also be at Walmart locations in Conway – minus Prince Street – and in Clinton.

“Stuff the Bus eases the financial burden on families with school-aged children that are struggling to make ends meet, giving a student who is in need the necessary supplies needed to promote learning, encourage self-esteem and help kids stay in school,” a United Way spokesman said. “It’s more than school supplies. It’s the first step to prepare students for a fulfilling, successful future.”

To learn more about the program, or if a business is interested in becoming a drop-off location, contact Aimee Prince at the United Way of Central Arkansas office by phone at (501) 327-5087,or by email at a.prince@uwcark.org

Donation items – including backpacks, three-ring binders, pencils and pens, highlighters, earbuds, deodorant, toothbrushes and toothpaste, scissors and more – can be dropped off at the Walmart locations previously mentioned or the following:

Conway:

• 10 Fitness.

• Conway Regional Health System.

• Central Baptist College.

• Farris Agency, Inc.

• Insight Enterprises, Inc.

• BURN Studio.

• CAPCA.

• Biotest Plasma Center

• All locations - Arvest Bank, Centennial Bank, First Security Bank, Simmons Bank.

• Coleman Office Supplies.

• Conway Corporation.

• CVS Pharmacy.

• Faulkner Co. Council on Aging.

• Kimberly Clark.

• Marketplace Grill.

• Nabholz Construction.

• PattiCakes Bakery.

• Pro Auto.

• Regions Bank.

• Stoby’s.

• Original Fried Pie Shop.

• US Bank.

• Walmart Marketplace.

• ZAZA Fine Salad + Wood Oven Pizza.

Greenbrier:

• Centennial Bank.

• Harps Food Store.

• Walmart Marketplace.

• MoJo’s.

Mayflower:

• First Security Bank.

• Harps Food Store.

Freyaldenhoven Heating and Cooling is also participating in this year’s supply campaign.

“We’re happy to host a United Way of Central Arkansas collection box for Stuff the Bus,” the business posted on Facebook. “Come by and see us at 1101 Front St. in Conway with your donations and help make sure area children will have the school supplies they need to succeed!”

Several other groups across the county are also helping to get support for the 2019-2020 year including those with the Pine Street Backpack Program, in its 12th year, which provides backpacks stuffed with school supplies for more than 9,000 kids.

“Our motives are still the same,” co-founder of the program, Tim Ester, said. “We’re trying to ease the burden of parents buying school supplies. Those supplies get more expensive every year.”

Ester said to receive a backpack – packed with about 80 percent of the year’s entire supply needs – people had to pre-register by July 27. Those who did have to also attend the family-friendly carnival on distribution day 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Aug. 10.

“It’s become a community-wide event,” Ester said, adding that local firefighters and police officers help hand out the backpacks and talk to the kids.

To make donations or volunteer to help with the carnival at visit www.pinestreetpacks.com. For more information, call Leona Walton at 501-697-0930.

CrossPoint Church is also hosting a free Back 2 School Drive & Block Party with food, inflatables, games, backpacks, clothes, haircuts and more. at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 2 at 701 Polk St.

“It’s to bless YOU,” the church wrote on its Facebook page. “We love our city, and we love to bless families. We know that back-to-school costs can be hard on families, and we want to help. We can’t wait to meet you and to bless you with the love of Jesus in a tangible way.”

New Hope Baptist Church will have a free backpack and school supply giveaway with games, free food and door prizes from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Aug. 10 in the Ida Burns Elementary School parking lot. The University of Central Arkansas football team will be on hand at the event, as well.

“The Back 2 School Block Party will be family-friendly fun for all ages,” organizers said.

For more information, visit www.newhopefamily.org.

Faulkner County Library in Conway is hosting a Back-to-School Supply Drive until Aug. 4. 

"Do you have overdue fines on your account?" officials posted through the library's Facebook account. "YOU donate the school supplies [,] WE take care of your fines!" 

The library encourages donations including No. 2 yellow pencils, Crayola crayons and markers, wild-rule and college-rule paper, sticky notes and more. 

Donations do not apply to charges for damaged, billed or lost items. 

Jonathan and Morgan Shaw, owners of Color, beauty bar and boutique, located at 1125 Front St. have also stepped up to help out during this back-to-school season.

Morgan, a mother of four, told the Log Cabin Democrat she’s been there.

“I know how expensive going back to school can be,” she said.

That’s why they decided to open up the salon for free haircuts on Aug. 12, already booked solid with 80 appointments starting at 9 a.m. Morgan laughed and said it’s going to be crazy.

“We cannot wait to serve all of these kids and make them feel special before heading off to a new school year,” the salon’s Facebook post advertising the day, reads.

Color is also celebrating it’s one-year anniversary at the end of August. Since they opened, Morgan said they’ve had great outpouring from the community and this was the Shaw’s way to repay that.

“I just wanted to give back,” she said.

In addition to the free haircuts, Morgan said ERA TEAM Real Estate has also donated cookie and drinks for the kids and Share.the.Love.Kidsclub has also given surprises for the younger children.

“(We) just want to send them off on a good note,” she said.

The Brier Back to School Bash is around for another year. 

The two-day event will go from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Aug. 2 and from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Aug. 3 at the Greenbrier City Event Center. 

"This event is an opportunity to provide a variety of Back to School items and services to attendees in one great location," officials posted to the Facebook page. 

Booths will include free haircuts, free school supplies, shopping, food, and more. 

Conway School District, Greenbrier School District, Mayflower School District, Vilonia School District, Guy-Perkins School District and St. Joseph Schools are all set to welcome students back for their first day on Aug. 13.

Those attending Conway Christian will go for their first day on Aug. 14, but will have early dismissal that day, the lower school leaving at 11:45 a.m. and the upper school at noon.

John Gray, the Mayflower superintendent, told the LCD they have open houses for students to visit with teachers and complete enrollment and registration requirements coming up soon: elementary from 5:30-7 p.m. on Aug. 8; middle school from 6-7:30 p.m. on Aug. 8; and high school from 5-7 p.m. on Aug. 6.

“Our [p]rincipals and staff will be ready and we look forward to another great year with our students,” Gray said.

In addition to the many returning, he said they are also expecting 41 new students through school choice applications they received.

“We welcome them and our returning students back,” Gray said. “Our students have every chance to do well academically and we expect our sports programs to continue to do well this year with district, regional and state champions. One thing is for sure, we care. We will do what it takes to take care of our students.”