Back to School? Get FREE School Supplies!

(Last Updated On: June 19, 2018)

Back to School season is already upon us! If you’re low income, shelling out $200-$400 per student for school supplies can be overwhelming or maybe even impossible. Fortunately, there are several organizations that can help you save money on supplies during this hectic back to school season!

School supplies are expensive! It’s been estimated that these annual purchases cost $200 per elementary student and up to $375 for high school students! Americans as a whole are expected to spend $83.6 BILLION on back to school supplies this year!

It’s no wonder why so many low income families struggle to get their children enough school supplies. As lists get longer and more expensive, it’s a real challenge for families to fill those backpacks. Fortunately, there are many agencies and charities that help low income families get free school supplies and start the year off right!

free school supplies

You may be able to get backpacks and FREE school supplies!

The Assistance League provides school supplies and clothing through Operation School Bell. For more information on programs in your area, you’ll need to contact your local Assistance League chapter.

The Kids in Need Foundation provides free supplies to communities where 70% or more of the children participate in a federal nutrition program, such as the National School Lunch Program. This program is available through these affiliates. 

Operation Homefront provides military families with school supplies through the Back-to-School Brigade. They distributed over 25,000 backpacks last year! The supplies are distributed at official Back-to-School Brigade events. 

The Salvation Army provides back-to-school assistance for low income families. Assistance may include backpacks, school supplies, shoes and/or clothes! In many areas, the application period begins in July!

Homeless students who receive free weekly tutoring from School on Wheels (in California) can also receive backpacks and school supplies! The agency will also assist with helping families locate lost school records and assist with school enrollment.

The United Way has offices across the country. Many of them organize school supply drives for their local communities! For more information on these programs, you will need to contact your local United Way office.

You can find FREE back to school clothes!

Clothing is one of the most expensive parts of the back-to-school preparation. If your child is in need of an affordable school wardrobe (or school uniforms), check out these helpful resources:

Clothing swaps are a great place to find affordalble, gently used clothing. Bring what you don’t need – take home what you do!

Cragislist, Freecycle and local “Buy Nothing” groups are great places to find free clothing also.

Teachers can get free supplies, too!

The Kids in Need Foundation provides two large boxes of essential items (like pencils, scissors, paper and notebooks) to teachers who serve in communities where at least 70% of the students receive free or reduced price lunches. Supplies are limited! Apply here by August 14!

You can get MORE free school supplies and clothes in your local community!

There are many nationwide organizations (such as Office Depot) that assemble backpacks for local communities. However, these organizations send those supplies to local community action agencies, who then pass the supplies on to local families.

The best place to find FREE school supplies is to search in your local area. There are many local events and donation programs that gather these supplies for low income families.

Here are the areas we’ve researched so far:







New York

North Carolina




South Carolina



If your area isn’t listed here, you can still get help!

Our research team is happy to help you locate resources in your local area. Just leave us a comment below and tell us where to look! We’ll add it to our research list and get that information published as soon as we can.

However, we do have an extensive reader request list and may not be able to get this information to you before the next school season. So, to ensure that everyone is able to get the help they need, I’m going to teach you how to do what we do!

Step One: Check with the United Way.

When we receive a request for information, the United Way 211 directory is the first place we go. The United Way maintains extensive lists of local resources and usually offers these directories online. Sometimes, you may need to call 211 or chat with a resource specialist in order to access this information.

Step Two: Perform some Google searches.

Use quotation marks to search for exact phrases. Use “free school supplies” or “backpacks” or “back to school events” to find school supply distribution programs. Be sure to include your city and state in the search!

For example, you could type something like these into the Google search bar (substituting your city and state, of course):

  • “free school supplies” Sacramento CA
  • Sacramento CA “back to school events”

Step Three: Call your local Community Action Council, Salvation Army, St. Vincent de Paul and other major charitable organizations. 

These agencies are often aware and informed of events and distributions that are taking place. By touching base with your prominent local charities, you may discover lesser-known programs that can help.

Get more FREE stuff!


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