Overruns, misprints and surplus promotional products of all kinds can be repurposed to help make a substantial difference in underserved schools across the U.S. On Wednesday, Corey Gordon, CEO of Kids in Need Foundation, spoke with emcee BJ Smith during PPAI Expo D2U Live about the organization’s mission that every child in America should have equal access to a quality education.

Since 2007, PPAI has supported that mission by creating awareness for the Kids in Need Foundation within the promotional products industry, and giving access to its staff and volunteers who collect surplus promotional products donated by exhibitors following the PPAI Expo in Las Vegas every year.

“Our focus is on supporting under-resourced teachers and students all across the U.S.,” he said. “Fifteen million students live in poverty, so they are lacking in the basic supplies. Teachers are tirelessly working to support them, but this past year, with COVID, the need has been magnified. We’ve been working with PPAI for approximately 12 years, and the supplies and products we’ve received from distributors and exhibitors in the past have gone to support students and teachers directly. And those products have been tremendously well-received because so many times, for these schools, these are basic supplies that the students and teachers would otherwise not have.”

Gordon said that not only are the basics such as pens, paper products and notebooks needed, but promotional products across almost all categories can be put to good use by creative teachers. “Some of the other items that don’t necessarily come to top of mind are used by teachers to equip their classrooms, as tactile rewards for special needs classes and for younger students as kind of a treasure chest item that the teachers use to reward good behavior.”

The need for donated products is critical, Gordon explained. “For these teachers that we work with, 91 percent of their students across the U.S. arrive for the first day of school with zero supplies because these families cannot afford to give the students the supplies they need for school.” As a result, he said some teachers are spending two to three paychecks per school year to buy supplies for their kids. “How many of us would be willing to give up two or three paychecks a year just to buy supplies to do our jobs? That’s what teachers are doing. Because of COVID, I heard about a teacher who took out a personal loan to buy supplies for the students.”

Gordon noted that through the post-event product pick-up at Expo each year, approximately $40,000 to $50,000 worth of products are collected. “And those products go directly to the schools within the geographic area of the show within a week or two after the event. So over the course of the relationship, that’s half million worth of product that goes directly to the schools. It’s been a great relationship,” he said, adding that some of the companies involved have gone on to continue to support the work of Kids In Need by sending end-of-season, end-of-promotion, overruns or misprints all year long. “Instead of discarding and disposing of these and continuing to fill landfills, it’s both an environmentally-friendly and socially-friendly relationship to put those products to good use.”

In today’s distance-learning environment, as students remain at home and learn through online classes, he said there’s a growing need for basic products like pens, paper products, dry erase markers, dry erase tablets, headphones, earbuds and small bottles of hand sanitizer, plus another item that might be missed. “In talking to the teachers, one basic item that may surprise you is highlighters. What teachers are saying is it’s not healthy for students to be onscreen all day long—we lose these kids—so teachers are looking for activities and projects that kids can do offline. Teachers say they are looking for highlighters so kids can highlight sections of a workbook or activity book and have something physical to do. Being able to have that tactile, physical work is a great way to keep these kids engaged—and not just on screens all day long.”

Gordon also noted an exciting virtual event coming up this month for the Kids In Need Foundation. “It’s called Champions for Education. We have NBA and NFL Hall of Famers, athletes and celebrities all coming together to build awareness and help promote this evening online event with national speakers talking the state of education today and what we can do to support our students and teachers,” he said. The event is Wednesday, January 27 at 4:30 pm CT and is free and open to the public.

Even without a physical show this year, PPAI members can continue to support the Kids In Need foundation. Suppliers and distributors with excess inventory, including writing instruments, notebooks and notepads, stickers, drinkware, apparel, awards and promo products of all kinds, can donate the items to a good cause. Get details at www.kinf.org/donateproduct.