As inflation soars, back-to-school giveaway lightens load for Manatee parents

As local families plan their back-to-school shopping trips, price hikes have some of them crunching the numbers a little harder, adding stress to the annual spending spree. Wednesday night, parents and kids in Bradenton got a little relief with free backpacks, supplies, health screenings and a night of fun at the museum.

There were mammoths and masks, bison and books, and even pirates with pencils. It felt like a summer field trip to Bishop Museum of Science and Nature for MCR Health's Back to School Health Bash.

"We're giving away 1,250 backpacks to all the kids," said Scott Works, MCR Health Sr. director of Marketing/Communications/Patient Experience. "There's pencils and crayons and pens and paper and notebooks and all the things that they need."

On top of free books, dinner and face painting, kids got health, dental and vision screenings, plus physicals and immunizations. For parents, these events make life a little easier, lightening the load during a heavy time.

"Each year, it seems like the lists get bigger and bigger the higher the grade," said Heather Snyder. "So, something like this, even if it helps a little bit, you know, it takes the cost off the parents, especially in this economy."

The price of nearly everything is up as the country battles the highest inflation rate in 40 years. A study found that back-to-school shopping this year will see just a 5.5% gain in spending compared to last year's 13% jump. 

The reasons? Inflation, no more stimulus money, supply chain disruptions, rising interest rates, and declining personal savings.

"We've been getting calls for days just from parents that couldn't afford backpacks, parents that their kids are going to go back to school without anything," Works said. "It's one thing to be poor. It's another thing to feel poor. And we want to send these kids back to school with dignity."

Forty-five minutes before the doors opened, a massive line wrapped around the block, and 45 minutes in, it was just as long.

All 1,250 backpacks were handed out because so many families showed up, MCR Health plans to announce another free backpack event to take place before school starts.

"We just want to give families a night out that they can experience together, not have to worry about paying for anything," said Dr. Sheila Halpin with Soar in 4, a community initiative aimed at advancing early childhood and school readiness.

More help is around the corner. Florida's back-to-school sales tax holiday kicks off July 25th. It was extended to 14 days and will bring $100 million dollars in tax relief.