Charity Begins at School

As the year draws to a close, many families count their blessings and realize they have more than enough. And then they look for a way to share. There are, of course, plenty of opportunities for giving that involve nothing more than writing a check. Charities and faith communities often have end-of-year campaigns, and most parents have their favorite causes.

For children, however, sending a check—even one that they’ve saved or earned money for—is pretty abstract. They are more likely to connect with the spirit of generosity when they are responsible for giving something tangible to people they can identify with, especially other children.

In particular, kids understand school and can easily imagine how difficult it would be if they didn’t have the supplies they need to get through the day. Teachers understand this too, of course, and that’s why so many of them spend their own money to be sure students have crayons and notebooks or even shoes and coats. AdoptAClassroom.org estimates that 60% of school supplies are purchased by teachers because school district budgets are inadequate.

While there are many organizations on Staten Island that hold backpack drives for school supplies at the beginning of the school year, you may also want to expand your family’s vision to encompass less affluent school districts. Because many American schools are funded by property taxes, there are tremendous discrepancies in per pupil spending between and within states, according to reports from the Rutgers Graduate School of Education (schoolfundingfairness.org). As a result, children who most need an education sometimes get short-changed.

The websites below help connect families with schools, classrooms, and individual students who will really benefit from what they give. Try choosing one and visiting it as a family. Scrolling together through the requests will, at the very least, give children get a clear idea of how they can help kids like them and may also make them appreciate things they take for granted in their own schools.

Adopt A Classrom. Teachers post photos and descriptions of specific materials they would like to purchase for their students. You can find and fund a particular classroom or you can donate to schools that need the most help. Teachers get credits to purchase books, games and other educational materials through corporate partners. (adoptaclassroom.org)
Class Wish. Donors can search schools by zip code. Teachers list requests for a wide range of school supplies including basics like paper and pencils, technology, art supplies, musical instruments, books, magazines, library resources or scientific equipment, and even sports and playground equipment. (classwish.org)

Donors Choose. Founded in 2000 by social studies teachers from the Bronx, Donors Choose has won attention from celebrities like Oprah Winfrey and Stephen Colbert. Teachers can request funds for anything from extra pencils to scientific equipment. Donors can look for a specific classroom or they can browse by what’s requested or greatest need. More than 70% of the projects on the site are funded and teachers often post photos or have students write thank you notes to donors. (donorschoose.org)

Kids in Need Foundation has been distributing school supplies to kids since 1995. They run 38 Resource Centers where teachers and children in under-served school districts can get much-needed supplies. They also provide replacement supplies to children in areas that have been impacted by natural disasters. (KINF.org)

Supply Our Schools allows teachers in low-income school districts to apply for classroom supplies. Once you register on the site, you can see wish lists from teachers in districts in which a high percentage of the kids are eligible for free or reduced lunches. Then you can chip in to purchase specific supplies such as boxes of pencils or playground balls. (supplyourschools.org)

In addition to these programs, which fund a wide variety of supplies, several projects focus on specific kinds of equipment and supplies. If one of your children has a special interest in reading, science, technology, or music education, these programs will allow them to support others who are pursuing dreams in these fields.

Books. Books for Africa collects and ships books with the goal of ending the “book famine” in African schools. They accept textbooks, reference books  and other educational materials in addition to fiction and non-fiction books that are less than  ten years old. (booksforafrica.org)
Scientific research. Experiment.com provides funds for university level research.  Students who have an interest in science can browse the research topics in everything from ecology and economics to chemistry and neuroscience.  Projects are reviewed for quality, and all of the money goes to the researchers. (experiment.com)

Technology. The National Cristina Foundation makes connections between families with technology they no longer need and educational organizations that would be glad to have it. If you type your zip code into their non-profit locator, you’ll get extensive and detailed wish lists from organizations in your community, particularly those that serve students with special needs. (cristina.org)

Music. Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation promotes music education by donating new and refurbished instruments to schools, music programs and individual students. If you send them a gently used instrument that’s no longer being played, they will get it into the hands of an aspiring young musician. (mhopus.org)

Of course, education has no season. So if one of these projects appeals to your children, you may want to make a donation to celebrate a birthday or even an especially good report card. Whatever the reason, donations that help other children learn are a tangible way of showing your kids that you value both generosity and education. And those are lessons worth learning.

Carolyn Jabs, M.A., has been writing Growing Up Online for ten year. She is also the author of Cooperative Wisdom: Bringing People Together When Things Fall Apart, a book that describes a highly effective way to address conflict in families, schools and communities.  Visit cooperativewisdom.org for more information.