Back-to-school shopping can be frustrating, especially when items requested by teachers are hard to come by. This is where a prepackaged school supply kit can come in handy. Many PTOs are offering the kits as a fundraiser or simply as a service.

How It Works

The principle behind prepackaged supplies is simple: Offer one-stop shopping for school supplies as a convenience to families. Many companies offer kits customized for each school and grade. The PTO serves as a middleman between the parents and the vendor.

The parent group gathers the supply lists for each grade and sends them to companies for price quotes. After selecting a company, the PTO distributes order forms to parents and submits orders. Kits are typically delivered shortly before a new school year begins.

At Sampson Elementary in Cypress, Texas, Neelee Tschetter meets with teachers in January to review the previous year’s lists, then notes any changes that are needed and submits final lists to the vendor. The PTO takes orders for kits during the last few months of the school year.

The process works a little differently at New Albany (Ohio) Middle School. There, much of the process is taken care of online and the kits are delivered directly to the students’ homes, says PTO member Kathy Vinciguerra.

Getting Started

If your group is considering offering school supply kits, Vinciguerra advises asking for price quotes from several supply companies. Request sample materials and references, and find out whether vendors are willing to send replacements for damaged goods, Tschetter adds.

Also ask about shipping costs, which can add up quickly and increase the cost of the kits, says Patricia Schoening, vice president at Scotchtown Avenue Elementary PTO and secretary at Goshen Intermediate PTO, both in Goshen, N.Y.

To Fundraise or Not To Fundraise

New Albany Middle School’s PTO generated nearly $2,500 from last year’s program, which was funneled back into teacher grant programs and scholarship funds. Even a small markup can add up to substantial profit with enough sales, Vinciguerra says.

While New Albany’s program is a true fundraiser, others either break even or make just a small amount of money. Schoening’s PTOs price the kits at just $2 over retail, so it’s not a huge moneymaker.

Parents love the service and the convenience no matter what form it takes. Especially valuable is that the materials are exactly what the teacher asked for. “My daughter likes to make sure she has the right color notebooks, it’s all uniform,” Vinciguerra says. “This takes care of all that.”

Most PTOs use the supply companies to deliver the kits, though there are some that do it themselves. At Union Valley Elementary in Sicklerville, N.J., PTO members buy supplies in bulk from local stores and then assemble them in school backpacks. The PTO prices the kits at retail so any (small) profit made from bulk purchases can be rolled back in.

PTO president Jennifer Pfliegler says such a method also ensures that teachers’ unusual requests, if any, can be factored in. For example, one teacher wanted kids to bring in a certain hard-to-find brand of folders. Ultimately, the PTO called the manufacturer and sourced them directly.

Whether they’re offered as a convenience or as a fundraiser, PTOs say that parents are relieved to have that piece of back-to-school shopping taken care of. “Our parents love the program,” Tschetter says. “If they forget to order, they get really upset and then they definitely remember next year.”


Insider Tips

“Some supply companies will let you pick the percentage above cost that you want the PTO to get back. Five percent is good. You can even go up to 20 percent if your school demographic can accommodate it.”
- Kathy Vinciguerra, New Albany (Ohio) Middle School PTO

“Have the supplies delivered in beginning of June so if there’s a problem the companies are easier to access in the beginning of the summer.”
- Patricia Schoening, Scotchtown Avenue Elementary and Goshen Intermediate PTOs, Goshen, N.Y.

“Have a few extra kits on hand to sell at back-to-school events.”
- Lara Lewis, Greens Prairie Elementary PTO, College Station, Texas

“Some companies will also reopen stores in the middle of the year for when supplies run low. That’s really helpful.”
- Kathy Vinciguerra