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Treasure Coast nonprofits struggle keeping up with increasing need for school supplies

'More people are just struggling to get what they need to send their kids to school,' Rob Ranieri says
Posted at 7:19 PM, Aug 02, 2023
and last updated 2023-08-02 19:19:15-04

MARTIN COUNTY, Fla. — Across Martin County, nonprofits and families alike are struggling to prepare for the start of school.

According to the National Retail Federation, an average household now spends nearly $900 on school supplies.

Between that increased cost, the uptick in families needing help, and a lack of funding, many nonprofit organizations that normally provide back to school supplies for the community said they're struggling to keep up.

At House of Hope in Stuart, CEO Rob Ranieri told WPTV he's seen a significant increase in the amount of families seeking help with school supplies, food, rental assistance, and much more.

“Cost of food, cost of insurance, everything’s gone up so I think more people are just struggling to get what they need to send their kids to school," Ranieri said.

As the list of those struggling gets longer, donations are getting smaller, and likely for that same reason.

"We used to do food drives and people would come in and bring us some things, and now they’re actually coming in for support," Ranieri said.

Ranieri said normally, the nonprofit has a surplus of school supplies at the end of their backpack drives, which they then provide to families after Christmas break. This year, that won't be possible.

"With the increased demand, I don't know how much we’ll have left over. It’s all going to go out the door," Ranieri said.

Over at the United Way of Martin County, President and CEO, Carol Houwaart-Diez also said she's seen a large increase in need, and while the nonprofit and the county does get federal funding, much of it can't be used on school supplies.

"We're monitoring the American Rescue Plan funding for the community, so we're monitoring, with the County, almost about $10 million," said Houwaart-Diez. "Some of which cannot go to school supplies, it can go to other things, but not school supplies."

Because of the lack of funding and increased strain on nonprofits, the Boys and Girls Club of Martin County (BGCMC) said many across the Treasure Coast that used to provide back to school supply fundraisers and drives for low-income children, no longer can this year.

"When funders fell short, our supporters wasted no time in answering our call for help," said Keith Fletcher, president and CEO of BGCMC.

Tuesday, with the help of donations from the community, the BGCMC held a backpack drive themselves to help make up for the nonprofits that didn't have the means this year to do it themselves.

"[The community's] kindness enabled us to close the gap and ensure local kids with some of the greatest needs can start the school year with confidence and readiness to learn and grow," said Fletcher. "We’re going to do whatever it takes to help the kids that need us most.”

The response from the community is something Brandie Lambert is thankful. The Jensen Beach mom spoke to WPTV's Kate Hussey as she was grocery shopping, and feeling the pinch of how little thirty dollars can go.

“Yeah, one bag [of groceries],” said Lambert.

Yet groceries don't compare to the prices she's facing trying to buy supplies for her second grader.

“The clothes is what’s really the most expensive," said Lambert.
"I cannot afford that. I cannot afford that. But I get a lot of help from the Salvation Army, House of Hope, and my church to get everything he needs, because the lists just get longer and longer."

Lambert said without those nonprofits stepping in and stepping up, she wouldn't be able to make it work, and knows so many others like her are in the same boat.

“I wouldn't still be living here if I couldn’t get the assistance I need," said Lambert. “Like I said, everyone’s one step away from poverty. And you know, I am in poverty," said Lambert.

Thankfully, while strained, House of Hope is still able to provide backpack drives, just like the Boys and Girls Club of Martin County.

In addition, Wednesday, the United Way of Martin County packed up boxes of school supplies they donated to four preschool organizations to help support the families that attend, and age group Houwaart-Diez said is often overlooked.

“The reality is, most people don’t even think of those children, right? They’re thinking about the kids going into the public schools, so we thought, hey, lets focus on our little ones, and so much is expected of our little ones now that we want to make sure they’re ready when they go to kindergarten next year," said Houwaart-Diez.

She also added the United Way is seeing an incredible outpouring of support from the community, who has helped them provide school supplies like the ones they donated Wednesday.

All organizations encouraged those in the community who have the means to donate to the many who don't.

If you'd like to make a donation, or get in touch with the nonprofits who help, click any of the following links below: