Kids enjoy their free school supplies provided through KidSmart.


Pencils, paper, protractors… As the first day of the new school year approaches, more than 90,000 students in St. Louis don’t know where their classroom supplies will come from. But many area nonprofits are working to change that. 

One nonprofit aiming to set up kids to succeed in school is KidSmart. The organization began 12 years ago by equipping 5,000 kids with $150,000 in school supplies—now, it annually serves more than 100,000 kids with $34 million of supplies.

To assist students this school year, KidSmart launches its Push for Pencils program today. Through Aug. 31, school supplies—or monetary donations—can be dropped off at the more than 100 area businesses listed on its website, “Some families struggle to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads, so items like school supplies just aren’t a reality for these kids,” says KidSmart’s president and founder Jennifer Miller. “We empower local kids in need to help them succeed in the classroom.” A simple pencil and basic notebook can make a difference in a child’s life, she continues. “Kids will write thank-you notes to donors whom they’ve never met, they’re so grateful. They’ll say, When I grow up I want to help a kid like you helped me. It also teaches them the importance of giving back and helping others.”

And for assistance throughout the year, KidSmart’s Free Store offers teachers from 150 schools the opportunity to pick up supplies for their classrooms. “Teachers can shop for each child’s needs—one student may need books to take home to practice reading and another may need supplies for a science project,” Miller explains. “This is an easy way for us to ensure that all students in the classrooms are equipped.” The store annually serves about 68,000 kids.

Among other efforts to reach area students in need, United Way of Greater St. Louis’ Multicultural Leadership Society is urging the community to ‘Stuff the Bus’ with school supplies. Attendees of the family-friendly back-to-school event, to be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Aug. 2 at Kiener Plaza, can enjoy music, barbecue and an art project while donating to area children in need. “Kids need school supplies to get ready for and be successful in the classroom, and we want to help provide those necessary tools,” says Ashley Gammon of United Way. “We encourage people to come down and help stuff the bus. It’s a fun event, and an easy way to give back.”

United Way recommends donating pencils, pens, washable markers, multi-colored folders, loose-leaf notebook paper, backpacks, glue and glue sticks, erasers, rulers, calculators, protractors, safety and regular scissors, and masking and Scotch tape. The items will be distributed by The Mission Continues and donated to United Way-funded agencies.

The Multicultural Leadership Society has 600 members who annually make a personal contribution of $1,000 or more to United Way. Last year, the Society raised more than $1.6 million for those in need throughout the region.

These nonprofits realize that kids are the future. “By providing kids with the school supplies they need, it sets them up to be successful employees who are productive in our communities,” Miller says. “The need is year-round. And it’s so easy to make a difference.”

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