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A new outfit topped off by a backpack filled with pristine supplies can make the return to school exciting — or at least ease grief over summer’s end.

However, there are children, teens and college students who worry over the start of school. Maybe they fear others will notice they don’t have fresh clothes or unused supplies. Others might have anxiety about their difficulty with reading or a learning disability.

The National Retail Foundation predicts record spending on 2019 back to school items like supplies, clothing, shoes and electronics.

For children in elementary school through high school, average spending will hit $696.70 per family, notes NRF. That’s almost 2% more than last year. Meanwhile, the average college student will spend $976.78 on electronics, clothing and supplies — a 4% increase.

Overall, the bill will top $80.7 billion for both groups combined, according to NRF data.

In the past decade, churches, mosques, synagogues and other faith communities have pitched in to ease this burden. These groups routinely assist families with educational needs, often digging deeper as costs increase.

Nationwide, help from houses of worship runs the gamut, with congregations providing things like school supplies, scholarships, tutoring, free physical examinations, host family relationships and even haircuts.

There’s the National Council of Jewish Women of St. Louis, which founded Back to School! Store in 2001. Pre-registered elementary school students are invited to the store prior to the start of the school year. Each child is paired with a volunteer, who helps her or him pick out clothing, shoes and a winter coat, a backpack and school supplies and personal care items.

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All the merchandise is new and donated by individuals and corporate sponsors. Back to School! Store partners with more than 60 local social service agencies, churches and community organizations to host the event. So far, the store has welcomed more than 12,000 shoppers.

Another example is the Islamic Circle of North America’s annual back to school drive. Through the initiative, ICNA member organizations in more than 30 states give away tens of thousands of supply-stuffed backpacks each year.

In Olean, N.Y., Epic Church and other ministry partners have hosted a back to school bash for eight years. The event includes music, games, bounce houses, a barbecue and book bag giveaway. Attendees also can get free haircuts. All items and services come from donations.

Based on previous years, the Rev. Chuck Maine told the Olean Times Herald he expects at least 500 attendees for the Aug. 24 event. He also estimated that 300 children will receive book bags of supplies.

Cedar Valley faith communities have provided similar types of assistance to area families that struggle to make ends meet. They offer a variety of aid through donations and volunteer service. In addition, this groups often partner with other nonprofits, such as the Northeast Iowa Food Bank.

Several area houses of worship participate in the Partners in Education program, through which members volunteer as mentors and tutors, classroom readers, providers of treats for test-takers and much more.

I’d like to feature houses of worship that have interesting and/or fun partnerships with area schools. If your program fits the bill, please email me.

Karris Golden writes The Courier’s weekly faith and values column. Email her at onfaith@karrisgolden.com.

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