GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. — After six kids and eight grandkids, Jennifer Salazar was tired of the cycle — The annual trip to Walmart, scanning each price tag for the cheapest option, scouring the coupon book for any relief. Only for the materials to break or go outdated and repeat the cycle next year.
“You can always cut costs by buying the cheaper brands, but you’re replacing them more often because they don’t last as long,” Salazar said. “It is absolutely insane trying to get your child ready for school.”
Salazar’s children were seniors in high school when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, canceling their senior prom and other end-of-school celebrations. To help the students feel celebrated, the community took on an “adopt-a-senior,” program in which community members took a senior student and celebrated them in a pandemic-safe way.
The program inspired Salazar to create a Facebook page where families in Mesa County who cannot afford school supplies are matched with donors who can. Families give their child’s age, grade and needs and are matched with a donor nearby. The two then agree on a safe place to meet and obtain the supplies.
“If you’re in need, I can’t guarantee that your child is going to get selected, but we do the best we can,” Salazar said.
After her family underwent a traumatic event when one of her daughters was 6 years old, Salazar said her family received a generous amount of help from the community. That experience inspired her to give back to the community that helped her family through an incredibly dark time.
Salazar started the program before the 2022 school year, which she said was important timing as the cost of school supplies hit an all time high due to record-breaking inflation.
“You’re looking at anywhere from $500 to $1,000 just to start out a school year,” said Cheyenne Hogue, who lives in Grand Junction and takes care of her nephew and buys him school supplies. “It’s a huge financial burden that school supplies have gotten so expensive."
While some schools in Mesa County provide supplies to students, parents in the area said ending up at one of those schools is “luck of the draw."
Hogue also reached out to several nonprofits in the area looking for donated supplies, but all said she did not meet a low-enough income threshold to qualify. Because of her financial status, Hogue felt she was stuck in an unfortunate middle ground, with too much money to receive free supplies and not enough to buy them herself.
Some parents felt that buying school supplies was a new concept, which is particularly difficult as costs have risen, while wages have largely stagnated.
“It seemed like everything was covered when I was growing up,” said Kim Espindola, a Grand Junction resident with two school-aged children. “There wasn’t even such a thing as buying school supplies. It was nothing like it is today.”
Espindola said her family, fortunately, has the means to afford school supplies but still believes every school should be given the funds to purchase supplies for students on its own. Putting the burden of buying supplies on parents, Espindola said, can lead to visible gaps in the quality of the supplies. Students whose parents can afford them have better supplies to show for it, and students whose parents can't budget supplies are left deprived of the opportunities that come with them.