September 6, 2022

Cradles to Crayons: Reducing the Cost Burden of Back-to-School Season

National Philanthropic Trust’s donors recommend thousands of grants every year. This new series, Grants In Action highlights the breadth of causes and organizations NPT’s donors are supporting with grant recommendations from their donor-advised fund accounts. 

Author Hayley Alison, Global Communications Intern

The National Retail Federation estimates that families will spend an average of $864 on back-to-school supplies this year. The category, which includes consumer electronics and clothing, is susceptible to inflation, so many parents are planning on forgoing supplies or cutting back in other areas in order to afford them for their children. Given that a recent Brookings Institution and Wall Street Journal study estimates that it now costs $300,000 to raise a child, back-to-school shopping is yet another expense that’s difficult for many families to manage.

A recent Census study found child poverty in the United States at 16%, meaning one in six children fell below the poverty line in 2020. Nonprofit Cradles to Crayons has seen first-hand the struggle that these families endure, and by partnering with local human services agencies, they work to provide children living in poverty with essential items year-round. Back-to-school season is a major event for the organization, celebrating its 20th anniversary this fall. Volunteers build packages containing donated supplies at their warehouses, or “Giving Factories,” then send them directly to families in need at the recommendation of partner agencies.

Since its founding in 2002, Cradles to Crayons has served over 3 million children across Boston, Chicago and Philadelphia.

“The school supplies we provide are essential to these kids,” states Michal Smith, the Executive Director of the organization’s Philadelphia location. She explains that “Of the ten limitations surrounding kids attending school, three of them are: school supplies, clothing and the confidence those items give to make a kid go to school.”

With only 16 full-time employees, Cradles to Crayons’ day-to-day operations rely heavily on volunteers. Families and workplaces donate volunteer time and conduct supplies drives to help support crucial learning and development. Philanthropists with donor-advised funds (DAFs) at NPT support the organization with annual grantmaking, as well.

“DAFs, for us, means there is a family behind the giving” says Smith. Many families coordinate their giving through donor-advised funds, and when those donors make grants to Cradles to Crayons, there is almost an immediate impact. “Any gift given has an approximate turnaround time of three days,” Smith explains. As soon donations are received, they are used to buy brand new resources and supplies, coordinate volunteers, and operationalize distribution. With locations in Boston, Chicago and Philadelphia, Cradles to Crayons has served over 3 million children since its founding in 2002.

The heartbeat of the organization is the unrestricted giving from families and individuals who understand that a child’s ability to thrive in school is a fundamental part of their growth, “At [Cradles to Crayons’] core, families helping families is a part of our mission” states Smith. “For every dollar someone gives us, we make it count.”

School attendance and preparedness is key to development, and expensive supplies shouldn’t stand in the way of a child’s ability to thrive in class. “It is key that we make sure kids go to school and are focused on learning,” explains Smith.

The supplies are “just a little piece of the battle to help kids be successful,” according to Smith, but by defraying some of these costs, the organization helps families and their children, for a lifetime.

About the Author

Hayley Allison is a Summer 2022 intern for the Global Communications Team at National Philanthropic Trust. She is a graduate of Temple University where she earned a degree in English and Creative Writing. She currently resides in Philadelphia, PA with her cat, Matcha.