Parenting can be an assault on the senses, from the effluvia of the diaper pail to the torture of bare feet on a rug strewn with Legos. But nothing tortures a parent suffer more than the musical assault of the Childhood Industrial Complex.

When I was a child, Disney movies featured scores by Stravinsky and songs from Louis Prima and Peggy Lee. But when I had a child, I got Billy Joel singing "Why Should I Worry?" from "Oliver & Company" -- over and over. And over.

As long as I live -- and no matter how hard I try -- I'll never forget that Oliver's got "street savoire faire," which -- in a just world -- would be a painfully debilitating disease.

A song in my backpack

Parents today have it even worse, thanks to Dora the Explorer and her entourage, including her singing backpack. Let's sample "The Backpack Song," with its scintillating lyrics: "Backpack! Backpack! Backpack! Backpack!"

It ain't Gershwin but it's timely. Back-to-school season is in full swing, and every kid needs a backpack, plus a whole lot more. The National Retail Federation estimates average back-to-school spending of $634.78 per family this year. And with backpacks going for $40 or more, many families need help.

That's where several charities come in, from my own church to Walgreens, all collecting backpacks and school supplies. In my home state, Volunteers of America Michigan aims to distribute 2,000 backpacks stuffed with binders, pencils and more, says Erica Medvinsky, donor relations manager.

"The effect of being equipped with the right school supplies can be amazing," Medvinsky says. "When kids come to school prepared, it builds confidence for them and makes learning exciting, not shameful."

Don't be tardy

Whether you want to donate or receive supplies, start early. Volunteers of America Michigan already closed its applications but will continue collecting. At Operation Kid Equip from the Michigan Friends of Education, which will distribute 5,000 backpacks, CEO Menachem Kniespeck says needy families started calling in June.

"If we had 300,000 backpacks, we could definitely serve the need in southeast Michigan," Kniespeck says.

There's no central resource for families who need supplies, so check with your school district, church, United Way and other social service organizations, as well as on the Web. Volunteers of America is running backpack programs in several locations, which you can find at

For donors, it's easier. You can drop off donations at your nearest Walgreens or donate to Volunteers of America, the Kids In Need Foundation at, World Vision Inc. at, or you can contact social service agencies, churches and/or schools.

Get generous and get going -- or else. I know all the lyrics to "The Backpack Song," and I'm not afraid to come to your house and prove it.

(Brian J. O'Connor is an award-winning columnist for The Detroit News. Contact him at