Back-to-school drives prepare Pittsburgh kids for learning with free supplies

One in three kids in the Pittsburgh region is in need of school supplies.

It’s shocking, says Shea Higgins, marketing manager for The Education Partnership. “It’s such a basic, vital piece of children’s education. Without those tools, they can’t participate, much less feel like part of the class. But when every child is prepared, classrooms thrive.”

The Education Partnership is one of several organizations planning special events and initiatives to help arm kids with school supplies to make a positive impact in the new school year.

“When kids start with the right tools, it does more than prepare them. It empowers them,” Higgins says. “Suddenly a child doesn’t have to feel like they are without. They can be a part of their classroom. Teachers don’t have to pause the lesson to track down a pencil, and they can inspire their students with more lively, hands-on lessons.”

The long-term effects are tangible, she adds, with kids who attend class more often, are more involved in their work, and score higher on tests.

“New backpacks and school supplies help a child feel ready and confident for a new school year,” says Jim Guffey, executive director of South Hills Interfaith Movement (SHIM). “But there are families in our community who might not be able to afford these items.”

Last year the organization provided 700 South Hills kids with backpacks, and the need continues to grow, with 4,000 children eligible for free or reduced lunch in the communities it serves.

Here are some of the programs helping kids get ready for the first day of school:

South Hills Interfaith Movement’s Back-to-School Drive

All K–12 students from Baldwin-Whitehall, Bethel Park, Keystone Oaks, Mt. Lebanon, South Park and Upper St. Clair are eligible to receive backpacks and supplies, regardless of income. Distribution dates are 1-4 p.m. Aug. 14 at Baldwin United Presbyterian Church; 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Aug. 17 at SHIM’s Prospect Park Family Center, and 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Aug. 18 at Bethel Park Community Center. Reservations are encouraged at SHIM will accept donations of new school supplies through Aug. 7.


Pittsburgh Public Schools will host its annual back-to-school event, #WeArePPS, from 1-5 p.m. Aug. 21 at Pittsburgh Langley. The program is designed to equip families with resources necessary to achieve a healthy start to the school year. It is open to all Pittsburgh Public School students. The event will include a parent resource fair. Barbers will provide haircuts for students.

Donations of school supplies will be welcomed through Aug. 5 at three drop-off locations: PPS Administration Building, 342 S. Bellefield Ave., Oakland; City-County Building, Downtown, and WAMO 100, Forest Hills Shopping Plaza.

Kids had a great time at last year’s Buzzword Pittsburgh’s Homewood Back To School Fest. Photo courtesy of Pittsburgh Cultural Trust

Homewood Back to School Festival

Buzzword Pittsburgh, in partnership with Pittsburgh Association for the Education of Young Children (PAEYC) and Pittsburgh Public Schools (PPS), is sponsoring the third annual Homewood Back to School Festival from noon to 3 p.m. Aug. 12 at Crescent Early Learning Center, Wilkinsburg. The afternoon will be geared toward back-to-school readiness and will include performances, art-making and activities, information tables, pre-K and kindergarten registration, food and drinks and giveaways. Many area cultural organizations will be on hand to add to the fun, including Carnegie Science Center, Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, Environmental Charter School, Gateway to the Arts, Homewood-Brushton Family Support Center, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, and Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse.

The Education Partnership

Students in 100 schools selected by The Education Partnership in Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Washington, and Westmoreland counties receive free school supplies from this organization. The Partnership is sponsoring fundraising efforts in August, including:

  • “Every Kid Kickoff” from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Aug. 1 at Wigle Whiskey Barrelhouse, Spring Garden. The kickoff for the back-to-school includes free admission, with 12 percent of sales at Wigle Whiskey and Revival Chili food truck going to purchase school supplies for the one in three kids in the area who need them.
  • “Pack the Bus” runs Aug. 19 at 10 participating local Target stores, where buses will be parked, and people can donate supplies for kids in need.
  • “Back-to-School Bash planned for 6:30-9:30 p.m. Aug. 26 at Lemont on Mt. Washington offers $50 admission for dinner, music, dancing, cake, and raffles. Each ticket supports The Education Partnership’s goal of helping “500 children in one night.”
  • Monetary donations also are being accepted in August at the registers of local Giant Eagle stores to support the initiative, or supplies can be dropped off at local Starbucks stores.

Homeless Children’s Education Fund

More than 2,200 backpacks filled with school supplies will be distributed to vulnerable Allegheny County kids who have been identified as homeless or are experiencing other housing or financial hardship. The back-to-school effort comes from a partnership between the Homeless Children’s Education Fund and UPMC Health Plan. The backpacks will be filled by volunteers on Aug. 18, then distributed to kids through about 27 housing and service providers, as well as schools and community centers.

Rep. Gainey Annual Book Bag Drive

State Rep. Edward C. Gainey, 24th Legislative District, will sponsor his annual Book Bag Drive from noon to 4 p.m. Aug. 19 at Destiny International Ministries, 7061 Lemington Ave., Brushton. Kids attending will receive a free book bag containing school supplies. There will be food and music and helpful information on safety and state programs for kids.

Arsenal Park Back-to-School Bash

Lawrenceville United will host this year’s Back-to-School Bash from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Aug. 19 in Arsenal Park. The goal of the program each year is to create community excitement for the start of the school year, provide families with free back packs and school supplies for their kids, and connect parents with Lawrenceville’s feeder schools and afterschool program providers. There will be food, music, community agencies sharing details about family resources, plus kids’ activities, including a bounce house and face painting.

For more insight, watch Kristine Sorensen’s KDKA report on the subject: