Community program

Back-to-school on a budget: How this community program is making sure kids are ready for class

Mom-of-two Shannon Palmer needs to budget creatively every year when school book lists are sent out, so her children have everything they need without breaking the bank.

But a program designed to give parents across the state access to low-cost school supplies eases the pressure, especially with expensive uniforms — and encourages a circular economy.

Ms Palmer was one of hundreds to visit the Rockhampton School Savvy store, run by Centacare CQ, this week.

Although she sorted through most of the supplies, she was thrilled to find cheap uniforms for the Sam and Izzy kids.

“The books seem to be doing well this year, but the uniforms are very, very expensive,” Ms Palmer said.

“If you want to have a few extra on standby so that as a working parent you don’t have to wash every day, it’s very expensive to get five brand new ones.”

Shannon Palmer says the used uniforms are in good condition.(ABC Capricorn: Michelle Gately)

Follow the growth of children

Throughout the year, Ms. Palmer searches social media marketplaces for uniform items and trades with friends.

Most of the time, the uniforms are still in good shape, but they no longer fit.

Ms Palmer said being able to get uniforms for a range of schools in one place was “so convenient”.

A clothes rack full of colorful school uniforms
The program is designed to encourage a cyclical economy for school uniforms.(Provided: Centacare CQ)

A nice bonus to saving on the back-to-school budget means the Palmer family can now afford to splurge on going to the movies before school starts.

Centacare CQ director Robert Sims said the uniforms were donated by local parents, encouraging a circular economy.

Parents can donate uniforms throughout the year or bring them to pop-up stores.

“Often, as children grow quite quickly, there is a chance [uniforms] could end up just being thrown away or put in the cupboard, so it’s good to see them repurposed,” he said.

The program depends on donations

In addition to uniforms, the School Savvy program allows parents to stock up on all basic school supplies, from pencil cases to exercise books.

Hairdressers in some places have also volunteered to offer free haircuts this year.

A hairdresser cuts a girl's long hair.  There's a line of people waiting behind them
Kids can even access free back-to-school haircuts.(Provided: Centacare CQ)

Some of the supplies were also donated, but Mr Sims said several local businesses also sponsored the scheme so Centacare could buy good quality products and offer them at low prices.

The program started several years ago in Cairns, in Far North Queensland, and has expanded south to central Queensland.

It has been run by Centacare CQ in Rockhampton for four years and now also includes pop-up shops in Mount Morgan, Gracemere, Yeppoon and Bundaberg.

The program is run by other organizations in the Townsville area.

Although numbers have dropped this year due to Covid and the delayed start to school, Mr Sims said around 400 people attended Rockhampton and Bundaberg on the first day.

For all families

Although the School Savvy program provides low-cost supplies, Sims said it’s open to all families.

A building with desks filled with school supplies, with adults and children looking at objects
The pop-up shop is open to all families.(Provided: Centacare CQ)

“This time of year is a really big expense, especially if you have multiple kids,” he said.

“We have a wide range of people accessing services.

“It’s really important for kids when they come to school to make sure they have all the resources they need, and not feel like they don’t have something others may have in the class.”