I went to parochial school, so the excitement of back to school shopping was limited to awaiting my cousin’s hand-me-down uniforms, and deciding between a green V-neck sweater or a green cardigan sweater and between penny loafers or topsiders. My sister and I did, however, have an opportunity to select new lunch boxes and backpacks, as well as the traditional school supplies of pencils, pens, and notebooks to start the year off right.



For many families in Okaloosa and Walton County, back to school shopping can put a huge dent in an already tight family budget. As local school budgets get tighter, many of the supplies needed for a fully stocked classroom fall on parents and caregivers. My soon to be kindergartener needs no less than 20 glue sticks as well as erasers, paints, markers, and crayons. I have even looked at the third grade supply list. Additionally, cash strapped classrooms are asking parents to pitch in and contribute other “optional” items, like construction paper, printer paper, and tissues.



But local families don’t need to go it alone. Once again, the United Way is collaborating with local Walmart stores and collecting donations of new school supplies for their “Cram The Van” Campaign. Last year, the Cram the Van campaign collected more than 2,700 pounds of supplies for local schools, providing kids with the tools they need to support learning.



Having the appropriate equipment, pens, pencils, paper, and even glue sticks, erases the emotional barriers of being left out and allows young students to focus on the tasks at hand. Local Cram the Van events, held at the Destin Walmart on July 27 and Aug. 3,  and  the Santa Rosa Beach Walmart July 20 and 27, are accepting donations of new backpacks, #2 pencils, colored pencils pink erasers, markers, highlighters, crayons, paper, glue sticks, index cards, paper and folders, to name a few.



You can donate in Fort Walton Beach at the Publix in Sun Plaza, the Publix on Miracle Strip Parkway and Walmart on Saturdays through Aug. 3.



Parents in need of help outfitting their kids for the new school year should contact the United Way directly. The United Way website also has a great toolkit for individuals or organizations looking to organize their own back to school supply drives, so anyone looking for a service project can start there.



The back to school physical is another fall rite of passage. Like many Destin parents, our long time pediatrician closed his practice and moved out of the area earlier this summer, and I have been remiss about booking our back to school appointments. For those of us with health insurance, finding a new pediatrician is a decidedly “#FirstWorldProblem,” as they like to hashtag it on Twitter.



Families without insurance face yet another hurdle for getting their children ready for the new school year. On July 27, the United Way is hosting the sixth Annual “No Child Without Healthcare Fair” at Crestview High School. Local medical professionals will be on hand to offer advice as well as health screenings and physicals for participants. There will be games, activities and lunch as well.



Additionally, both the Walton County and Okaloosa County Health Departments offer free and low cost physicals at various times this month in preparation for back to school.



I can’t believe that school begins in a matter of weeks, and thanks to the dedication of a number of volunteers and the generosity of the community, local kids will hit the ground running and have everything they need for a successful school year.



Follow Susan Moody on Twitter @susanjmoody and visit her blog, The Emerald Coast Insider, at www.emeraldcoasttreasurebox.com.