HARRISON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - In South Mississippi, the first students head back to school on August 3. That means the pressure is on to get everything checked off the school supply lists.
This year, the National Retail Federation estimates parents will spend about $70 on school supplies for each student. That quickly adds up when parents are shopping for multiple children, like Tonya Henderson. Four of her five children are still in school.
"Sometimes the lists can be overwhelming," says Henderson. "If I can just take one or two children at a time, make it to the stores, pick up our list, have everyone with a highlighter, we are usually able to get through it without a problem."
Madison Walley will be a senior at Harrison Central this year. She's smart because she decided to get a head start on her shopping.
"It's only hectic when you come to Walmart in August because everyone comes at the same time," she explains. "It's hard to find everything you need."
Raise your hand if you've been in that boat - final weekend before school starts, and you can't locate some of those hard-to-find items on your list.
Some parents may turn to online shopping to make life a breeze. Others, who were fortunate enough may have signed up early to get their supplies boxed up and delivered straight to their schools.
"So, there's no more driving from store to store to try and find the item or looking through bins or boxes to find the specific item."
Macey Young, owner of Educate and Celebrate on Cowan Road in Gulfport describes how her store takes the back to school stress off parents.
"We box it up. We take it to the school. It's there on supply drop off day with your child's name and grade ready to go."
Sounds like a dream, right? Educate and Celebrate is the only store on the Coast that offers that option, and right now it's only available for the Gulfport School District and a handful of other schools. (But note, the deadline to sign up passed in early July!)
Whether you're placing pre-orders or tackling the stores, every parent knows school supplies are a must-have.
Melissa McNew Garrison says, "As a parent, we all want to make sure our children have what they need. As an administrator, we want our kids to come in and be ready to go, ready to be taught."
Garrison is the director of federal programs for the Harrison County School District. Her role is to keep track of federal dollars coming into that district. She says, sadly, many families in our area need help getting ready to go back to school.
"All of our schools, if you look at them across the gradient, about 70% of our students are at the poverty line. That's a very high level of poverty," she said.
Garrison says many of those families even struggle to provide students with clothes or regular meals, so of course, school supplies are also a challenge.
"In general, if a child doesn't have something, we supply it," Garrison said. "The principals, the teachers will make sure the students have what they need in order to be successful."
Tonya Cook is a shining example of that. She's been teaching 20 years, and currently teaches kindergarten for the Gulfport School District. She's busy getting her classroom at Anniston Elementary ready for the first day of school. Part of that includes picking up a few extra supplies.
"Generally, you'll have one or two, sometimes a little more, that do not have their supplies," says Cook. But as teachers, we have purchased extra supplies, so they all feel as part of the class. So, they're not standing out if they don't have something."
Fortunately, our teachers get a little help each year getting supplies in the hands of those who need them most. As Anniston Elementary Principal John Barnett explains, the community is a big part of that.
"As far as student supplies, we've got a lot of good community partners that are more than willing to reach out and provide support, do supply drives, do donation drives and then drop those off so we can get them to the students who are most in need."
Austin Coomer with United Way says, "Every year, the costs go up and up, and there are more and more supplies. And teachers are unable to fill their classrooms out of their own pocket. So, we're able to cut that cost for the teachers and also for the parents who can't afford it."
United Way of South Mississippi's campaign ends at area Walmarts Friday, July 27, which also happens to be the first day of the tax-free weekend.
United Way of Jackson and George County www.unitedwayjgc.org/is also collecting supplies for its Fill the Bus supply drive. That ends July 31.
All donated supplies are distributed to school districts across south Mississippi, where school administrators are then responsible for getting them to the students who need them most.