When summer winds down, most Westport parents won't give a second thought to buying school supplies, new clothes and shoes for their children. But for some, those purchases may mean falling short with the monthly bills.

So needy families again will get a hand next month from a program coordinated by town social service officials.

The Back to School Program, run by the Department of Human Services, provides new backpacks, school supplies ranging from erasers to calculators, new clothing donated by local businesses, plus gift cards for footwear at Payless Shoe Source.

But no public money goes to the program, which is run entirely with donations from individuals, organizations and businesses. As in past years, officials are appealing to the public for donations of new backpacks or money.

Last year, the program helped 220 children -- a 3 percent increase from the year before, and with a poor economy, officials expect demand to rise again this year.

For some families, the back to school period is "an expensive time of year," said Barbara Butler, director of the Department of Human Services.

More Information

HOW TO HELP Backpacks, supplies: New backpacks and school supplies of all types may be dropped off at Room 200 of Town Hall Monday through Friday between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Money: Tax-deductible donations made payable to "Town of Westport/DHS Family Programs" (memo: Backpacks) may be mailed to Department of Human Services, 110 Myrtle Ave., Westport, CT 06880

"Children have outgrown clothes, they need new shoes and school supplies. Things can really add up," she said. "This program really helps families spread their money a little further."

The department plans to distribute items to families at Toquet Hall from Aug. 2, through Aug. 8. In a store-like setting, children will be free to pick out their backpacks and school supplies from a variety of colors and designs.

"It's the little things that make the process more user-friendly," said Pam Bass said, a social worker for the human services department. She estimated the backpack and supplies alone are worth a $50.

While individuals and groups such as various PTAs support the program each year, donations still are needed, Butler said. If history is any indication, the Department of Human Services will be able meet demand once the Westport community gets wind of the call to help, she said.

Bass said when parents visit Toquet Hall for the school supplies and clothing, the looks on their faces reveal how grateful they are before they express their appreciation.

"It's like a weight off their shoulders," Bass said. "It's all about giving their kids what everyone else has without putting a strain on the family finances." She added the Back to School program puts the children from low income households "at the same starting point for the school year" as other children.

"The program started with the faith-based community giving a donation for supplies, and then over the years it's just grown," she said. However, its growth has not resulted in monetary aid from either the town or state.

Officials urge families who think they may qualify for the program to contact the Department of Human Services.

More information is available by calling Margaret Pinheiro at 203-341-1050 or emailing humansrv@westportct.gov.