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Back To School Savings

Corporate Photo, little girl working at and arts and crafts table.

Photo courtesy of Feeding America

Ah, August. That last bittersweet month of summer.

As a kid, I remember feeling both a sense of excitement and dread as the summer drew to a close. I was torn.

There would be no more weekday pool parties and playing tag after dark with the neighbor kids.  Homework and early bedtimes were definitely a bummer.

But the start of the new school year also meant I’d get to see my school friends every day. Plus, before the first day, I’d get to go shopping with my mom for school supplies.

I loved picking out new folders, a backpack and brand new pencils and pens. Since I’d inevitably grown since the last day of school, I also got to pick out cool new clothes and shoes.

Looking back, I realize now just how lucky I was that my parents could afford to buy us the things we needed to start the school year off right.

Many of the clients served by the St. Louis Area Foodbank don’t have that luxury. When you’re struggling just to pay the bills and can barely afford food, it’s overwhelming to think about all the things your child will need for school.

Fortunately, there are a few ways to save on those school supplies and new clothes. Many stores run major sales prior to the start of the school year.

But if retail shopping is still out of budget, here are a few other suggestions for saving money on back to school items:

1. Consider secondhand items. Visit Craigslist, Ebay, local thrift stores and even yard sales to find good deals on gently-used items. With a little patience, you can find everything from clothing and backpacks and to computer desks and notebooks.

2. Buy in bulk. If you have multiple children, or just need a bunch of a particular item, you can save by buying large quantities both at online retailers and at stores like Costco and Sam’s Club. These places can save you money on everything from lunchbox snacks to pencils.

3. Swap with other parents. Organize a group of parents from your community and host a school-supply and clothing swap. Your child may be tired of the Spiderman backpack, but it’s brand new to your neighbor’s son!

4. Take advantage of discounts. Many stores and online retailers will offer special student discounts on big-ticket items like laptops or dorm furniture. If you’re a veteran or a member of your local Farm Bureau or AARP, remember to ask each store if they offer those discounts. Sometimes it can pay big just to ask!

5. Repurpose and reuse! Remember those half-used notebooks in the garage left over from your high school math class? Rip out the used pages and use a new picture to cover up that 90s grunge band on the front. Leave no drawer unturned – you may find enough miscellaneous crayons to fill a whole box! (And hey, remember the gazillion pens and pencils you got from local businesses advertising at your neighborhood picnic? Fish those out!)

6. Go DIY. Now, sewing your child’s clothing may not be economical or good for your sanity, but there are lots of school items you can make yourself out of household items. How about turning that old makeup bag into a pencil pouch?

7. Go for the plain Jane. Save by buying the plain version of everything from notebooks to backpacks – they’ll be cheaper than the ones with the licensed cartoon characters. Fancy them up yourself with stickers, keychains and photos you print at home!

8. Use office supply store rewards and rebates. If you shop regularly for your work supplies at store like OfficeMax or Staples, you may have accumulated some major rewards points. Now is the time to cash those in for supplies for the kiddos! Plus, many stores offer rebates and gift certificates for back-to-school items – just sign up for the email alerts!

9. Wait it out. If your child can make it through the first month or two of school with last year’s backpack, you can score a major deal on a new one just by waiting for school supplies to go on clearance.

Sources:

http://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/my-money/2012/07/31/6-ways-to-save-on-back-to-school-supplies-and-clothes
http://frugalliving.about.com/od/bargainshopping/tp/Save_Money_on_School_Supplies.htm

Bethany Prange is the communications coordinator at the St. Louis Area Foodbank

Indoor Fun for Kids to Beat the Heat

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Photo courtesy of Feeding America

Summer is a great time to be a parent. The kids are out of school and you get to enjoy spending all that extra time with them.

But when the temperature is hovering above 100 degrees, playing a round of catch doesn’t sound all that appealing.

How do you keep the kids from climbing the walls – and driving you stir-crazy – when its sweltering outside?

Luckily, Pinterest is full of great ideas for free or cheap ways to entertain kids of all ages.

We here at the St. Louis Area Foodbank know that our clients, and even some of our volunteers, are on a tight budget.  But kids still need to have fun!

So, we created a board on our Pinterest page just for the kids.

Here are some of the coolest – and most fun – ideas. For more cool ideas, check out the above link to our Pinterest page!

• Painted Toast! Mix a little milk with some food coloring and hand the kids a new paint brush. A few slices of bread make the perfect canvas. Let them get their Picasso on before you pop the slices in the toaster.

• Masking Tape Town! Get out the masking tape and make roads for all the toy cars! Give the construction paper and safety scissors so they can cut out houses for their town!

• Kid-friendly Science Experiment! Mix baking soda, vinegar and various colors of food coloring to watch the fizzle and pop! Or, microwave a bar of Ivory soap and let the kids mold it into shapes!

• Homemade Stamps! Use apples, potatoes or even the used carboard tubes from paper towel rolls to make fun stamps! With some paper and washable paint, the tots can make a masterpiece!

• Frozen Color Cubes! Freeze water and water colors in ice cube trays the night before. Then pop out the various colors and let the kiddos use them to paint on scrap fabric! The color bleeds as it melts and since the cubes are nice and cold, you can even do this activity outside!

• Kid-Sized Drive-In Movie! Use large cardboard boxes, paint and colored tape to create cars for the kids to sit in. Paper plates make great wheels! Let each kid help decorate their “car” and when they’re dry, park ‘em in front of a kid show for a “drive-in” movie!

Sources: Pinterest, the Share and Remember blog, Creatively Content, Mom to 2 Posh Little Divas, I Can Teach My Child and Not Just A Housewife.

Bethany Prange is the communications coordinator at the St. Louis Area Foodbank

Bunnies Have The Right Idea

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Customers pick up some fresh produce from the Riverbend Roots Farm booth at the Webster Groves Farmers Market / Photo by Shannon O’Connor

If bunny rabbits had a grocery list, where would they shop?

I’ll give you a hint – there is probably one right in your own neighborhood.

You guessed it. Farmers markets!

(What? If you were a bunny, wouldn’t you want the freshest lettuce and carrots you could buy?)

Luckily, we humans DO get to shop at these open air markets of goodness.

Every spring and summer, local farmers, growers and crafters come together to offer an array of fresh fruit, vegetables, spices, dairy products and home-canned goods.

Depending on the market location and the number of vendors participating, the farmers market can be a one-stop shop for your veggie and produce needs.

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At the Webster Groves Farmers Market, more than 25 different vendors display their wares every Thursday from 3 to 7 p.m. In only its third year in downtown Webster, this farmers market has made a huge impact on the community.

“We only hope to get more vendors and potentially work out an opportunity to have donations available to the Foodbank or its agencies after the market concludes,” says Market Master Angela Foley. “We are looking forward to more years to come and enjoy seeing the mixture of people who attend each week, especially all of the families.”

Here are some of best things about farmers markets. They can:

  • Ignite social activity by getting people out and about in the neighborhood.
  • Bring a variety of new faces to a neighborhood, thus encouraging networking between various social and cultural groups.
  • Generate revenue for vendors and the neighborhood.
  • Bring fresh produce to neighborhoods with limited access to healthy food items such fresh vegetables and fruits.
  • Promote farmers and growers! Farmers large and small get to generate business and meet customers face-to-face.
  • Encourage a healthy diet. If you see it, you’ll eat it! Markets offer a variety of fresh, locally-grown produce. Many items are organic or have fewer chemicals.
  • Offer reasonable prices. By keeping their products local and avoiding overhead costs, vendors can often charge less than grocery stores.
  • Provide hands-on learning experiences. Growers can share recipes and advice on preparing fresh ingredients.
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A farmers market should and can be a fun outdoor adventure for the whole family. This is your opportunity to teach your children about making good food choices.

Right now, 16.7 million children in the United States live in households that don’t have access to wholesome foods. Since food insecure children are sick more often, recuperate more slowly, and are more apt to be hospitalized at an average cost of $12,000 per visit, this is a major concern for all of us.

Source: www.alliancetoendhunger.org and www.pediatricsdigest.mobi

With obesity rates skyrocketing, the need for more fresh produce is even more important. Farmers markets are just part of the solution to getting healthier foods to those who need it most.

 

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If you’re a farmer or grower in the bi-state area, it may just be worth your time to get involved in a farmers market.

Kris Larson of Riverbend Roots Farm is a vendor at Webster Groves Farmers Market.

 

“Since we are eager to extend our reach by participating in farmers markets, we hope to build a larger customer basis while also growing as a farm,” Larson says. “We give excess or close-to-date items from our farm straight to an Alton, Illinois church organization so that they may provide to the families in need.”

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Like Riverbend Roots, any grower, gardener or farmer who has any excess, off spec, close-to-code, or sample products are encouraged to donate these items to the St. Louis Area Foodbank or one of our partner agencies.
Last year, the Foodbank distributed 1,902,800 million pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables. Our clients certainly appreciate the fresh produce – even if it isn’t perfectly shaped!

For the farmers market in your area check out the following sites:

http://agebb.missouri.edu/fmktdir/view.asp
http://mda.mo.gov/abd/fmkt/
http://www.agr.state.il.us/markets/farmers/

ShannonOConnor_blog

 

Shannon O’Connor is the product solicitation coordinator at the St. Louis Area Foodbank