Back to School with TOMS and Bombas

It’s probably no surprise the back-to-school shopping season is second only to Christmas, and this is likely true for households contributing to the $82.8 billion dollar back-to-school business.

For the 2018 school year, “families with children in elementary through high school plan to spend an average $684.79 each” on school supplies, backpacks, clothing and other back to school items, according to a recent survey by the National Retail Federation. The realization of this expense for even one student makes the provision of school supplies by PWNA and its American Indian Education Fund (AIEF) program all the more relevant and imperative, as the school year quickly approaches.

As a giving partner of TOMS, PWNA annually provides TOMS shoes – and now socks donated by Bombas – to ensure students living in low-income households in rural and geographically isolated areas have access to basic items and are equipped and confident returning to school. With about 35 percent of back-to-school spending allocated to shoes and clothing, these resources are particularly important to families with financial limitations.

Schools and youth-serving organizations work with PWNA in tribal communities where poverty rates are higher for families than for their surrounding non-Native neighbors. Kym, a Family Service Manager of a Head Start program serving over 300 preschoolers shared the challenges faced by her community.

“There are parents who do not send their kids to school because they don’t have shoes, or their footwear is inappropriate – they may only have sandals because those are less expensive,” said Kym. “The poverty is so bad here. More than 38 percent of our students under age 18 live in poverty, and these [TOMS] are new! The students need shoes, and these are really good quality.”

A teacher in this same program explained, “You should see the happiness on their faces. It’s like Christmas time and it’s a big deal because these shoes are new, not hand-me-downs.’

Weeks before the school parking lots are jammed with busloads of bustling students, PWNA program partners are working meticulously to register students and offer outside resources to help equip their students for the coming school year. Gymnasiums, cafeterias, staff meeting rooms and even hallways are often transformed into personal shopping areas for the students. Supplies such as TOMS shoes and Bombas socks are on offer with nearby seating and sizing charts to get just the right fit. The commonly used “toe test,” typically administered by an adult, can easily supersede the sizing chart to ensure there is some room to grow.

Weeks before school parking lots are jammed with busloads of bustling students, PWNA program partners are working meticulously to register students and offer outside resources to help equip their students for the coming school year. Gymnasiums, cafeterias, staff meeting rooms and even hallways are often transformed into personal shopping areas for students. Supplies such as TOMS shoes and Bombas socks are distributed with nearby seating and sizing charts to get students the right fit. The commonly used “toe test,” typically administered by an adult, can easily supersede the sizing chart to ensure there is some room to grow.

I have attended many of these TOMS and Bombas distributions and seeing students being fitted for a new pair of shoes by their parents or grandparents never gets old. Children walk, skip, run and hopscotch their way out the door with something new to call their own. And the larger the family, the greater the financial impact.

One single mother in Nebraska had three school-aged children and an infant. Imagine being a single parent tasked with equipping three children at an average cost of $685 each…that’s over $2,000! I also asked one father what it would cost to purchase shoes and socks for his six children and he flatly replied, “I don’t even want to think about it.”

But, we all have to think about this reality. When families are too proud to send their kids to school because they don’t have the supplies they need, or when a child is being teased for the duct tape that keeps their hand-me-down shoes together, it’s hindering a child’s educational experience. We have to come together as a community to help families connect with helpful supplies and resources – such our TOMS and Bombas distributions and our annual Backpack Drive – so that children become confident learners who grow into caring adults.

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