By Jim Donovan:  According to a National Retail Federation survey, the average American family will spend $688.62 on back-to-school expenses, up from $603.63 last year.  For low-income, at-risk or homeless families, the cost of even basic school supplies can be a burden.

As a way to help local children go back to school with the supplies they need to succeed, Citizens Bank is now holding its annual Gear for Grades program.  You can donate new items like pencils, folders, notebooks, rulers and other supplies at any Citizens Bank branch in eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware from July 22 through August 9.

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This is the fourth year that Citizens Bank is partnering with Cradles to Crayons, the West Conshohocken-based nonprofit. In addition to collecting school supplies in its branches, the Citizens Bank Foundation has awarded a $30,000 grant to Cradles to Crayons to support the purchase of 3,500 backpacks and additional supplies. Each backpack will be filled with some of the most needed supplies including child-safe scissors, pencils, pens, erasers, pocket folders, spiral notebooks, crayons, washable markers, rulers, glue sticks, colored pencils, pencil boxes and index cards. Backpacks will be distributed to local children beginning in mid-August.


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