The start of the new school year is just a few weeks away, with uncertainty still looming over whether classes will be in person, virtual or a mix of the two.
A local nonprofit organization hopes to ease the financial burden of back-to-school shopping for parents, teachers and students as everyone begins to rebound.
KSBY is continuing our annual sponsorship of the United Way's "Stuff the Bus" campaign as it changes to a virtual format.
This fall, back-to-school shopping comes with a record-high pricetag.
In a survey by the National Retail Federation, parents of kids in elementary through high school say they plan to spend an average of $790. That's about $100 more than last year.
E-learning means new expenses on laptops, speakers, headphones, tech accessories, desks and chairs.
Linda Wingert is the Chief Operating Officer for United Way San Luis Obispo County.
"The need is great. Even though school districts are still making decisions on whether to do in-person or online, kids are still going to need school supplies. Parents are tapped right now," Wingert said noting historic unemployment levels.
Wingert says the nonprofit's 2020 Stuff the Bus campaign is more necessary than ever before.
"We are in our 12th year of Stuff the Bus and we are very excited to be able to provide the same school supply drive, virtually, because due to COVID-19 social distancing guidelines, we didn't want to put donors at risk or our volunteers."
However, Wingert says the move to virtual does come with concerns that the campaign might not garner the same level of community support.
Last year, local businesses and community members donated over $50,000 to the school supply drive.
"We're looking forward to that same type of support, even if it's in spirit," Wingert said.
A 2019 report by the Economic Policy Institute found California teachers pay an average of $664 to stock their classrooms. They pay the most out of pocket out of all teachers nationwide.
"Rather than teachers coming up with supplies out of their own pockets, which I'm sure will still happen to some degree, parents are now going to have to pay for those extra supplies," Wingert said.
Though August 15, people can go online to buy a backpack filled with grade-appropriate school supplies for local students. Or, you may drop off items and monetary donations at the United Way's downtown SLO office - 1288 Morro St. #10, on the corner of Morro St. and Pacific St.
"To be able to help those families out by providing school supplies to learn and excel in school, it means a lot," said Riley Smith with United Way SLO County.
Smith says the five school districts in the county continue to need support beyond the back-to-school season.
"If you would like to make a cash donation at any time of the year, those funds will be used for school supplies and sent to the districts," Smith said.
While the basics like crayons, glue, notebooks and pencils are still needed, this year, Stuff The Bus is looking for more tech-based supplies.
"Things like flash drives, microphones and speakers," Wingert said as they try to set kids up for success in virtual classrooms for an unprecedented school year.
Last year, over 4,000 local students received supplies from Stuff The Bus. However, another 1,000 kids were still in need, according to the United Way SLO County.
You can text STUFFIT to 44321 to support the campaign and learn more about how to help here.