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Needy Children Go back To School With Dignity Thanks To Nonprofits

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For the 21 million children who go hungry during the summer months without free school lunch, September signals an end to searing stomach pangs. But it also raises concerns about what they will wear on the backs and stuff in their knapsacks.

According to the U.S. Census, between the years of 2000 and 2010, the percentage of children living in poverty increased by nearly a third, but academic figures improved. More high school students graduated on time and more children attended preschool in 2010 than in 2005.

But as more poor students make their way back to school, they’ll have to grapple with the typical anxieties related to bullying and math homework, and how they will fit in if they can’t afford new clothes or school supplies. Though nonprofits are strapped in this tough economy, their resources may be best maximized if focused on young, disadvantaged kids, experts say.

"The best investments you can make are putting a child on the path to success early," Patrick McCarthy, the Annie E. Casey Foundation's president and CEO, told the Huffington Post last month. "That means early childhood interventions, high-quality preschool, investing in family supports, and home visiting. Those first eight years are essential."

As the first day of classes quickly creeps up, nonprofits across the country are realizing how critical of a role they play in giving disadvantaged kids the basics -- and the confidence -- they need to succeed in academics. So, they’re already organizing innovative and efficient ways of getting their student-clients geared up to get excited to go back to school.

Earlier this month, for example, more than 500 needy children, ages 5 to 11, spent the afternoon in a New-Jersey-synagogue-turned-cost-free-department-store, picking up all the essentials to kick off the school year right. The National Council of Jewish Women Essex County Section's (NCJW) event distinguishes itself from similar programs in that it gives the kids a chance, for at least one afternoon, to taste the feeling of what it's like to be a "normal" kid.

The children, who are paired with a personal shoppers, make their way through the abundance of neatly stacked shelves and racks of colorful backpacks and jackets and calculators and select the color and sizes that suit them best. It’s a dignified customer experience that doesn’t require burrowing through baskets in a dank basement or simply accepting a hand-me-down that's three sizes too big, just because it's free.

"I loved seeing their eyes light up when they realized they could pick whatever they wanted,” Jaime Ebright, a volunteer, said in a press release. “It was a real reminder of how fortunate we all are."

Over in Washington, Caring For Kids recently dispensed schools supplies and clothes to 3,000 kids in need, and makes sure to keep costs down so that the kids remain the main focus, University Place Patch reports. Besides paying for the van that carts the nonprofit's goods around, the organization's only other major expense is forking over $1,200 for storage space.

Manos de Cristo, a Central Texas nonprofit, has been equipping low-income kids for the start of school for 20 years, but wasn't sure it was going to be able to raise enough funds this year to continue its annual benevolent tradition, Your News Now reports.

But a group of determined supporters came together to knock on church doors and reach out to all of their contacts to collect $50,000, so that they can hand out two sets of clothes, school supplies and two books to each child.

"Just to feel successful as they walk in the door is very important," Julie Ballesteros, of Manos de Cristo, told the news outlet, "because that child, that child that is ready and prepared, comes into the classroom with a smile and is ready to go."

Click through the slideshow below to see photos from the National Council of Jewish Women's back-to-school shopping event.

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