Rebecca Eisenberg braved a cramped aisle inside a crowded Staples in Westbury Monday, checking off a detailed list of back-to-school items from the East Meadow school of one of her daughters before placing each new treasure in her cart.
Found with ease: marbled composition notebooks, 2-inch-thick binders, subject dividers, loose-leaf paper, highlighters and colored pencils.
But at 1:30 p.m., her list was only half-complete, with loose-leaf paper reinforcements and flash drives yet to be located.
"I still don't know if this is a waste of time or not," she said. "We may have to come back. The list has a lot of things in it, but they don't tell you how many or how much to get."
Eisenberg and her clan were among hordes of shoppers flooding local malls and stores on the Labor Day holiday, riffling through piles of thick plastic binders, colored markers and nature-themed folders for all that's needed for the school year -- which starts Tuesday in 33 of Long Island's 124 public school districts.
Lisa Alvarado of Lindenhurst was able to finish her 7-year-old son's list with ease; it came at the beginning of the summer, sent home with his report card as the school year ended.
But her older son's needs remained a mystery for much longer. While many of the items were mundane, one, a calculator, was memorable if only for its cost: about $100.
Alvarado found one on eBay for $60.
"It's for a boy," she said, lamenting the price. "And they destroy everything."
Lynne Kennedy, 46, of Wantagh, has spent about $100 on her two youngest children -- mostly on notebooks, binders and oddly specific items on her 10-year-old son Jack's list, including Staples brand clear glue. Kennedy could have preordered a box of supplies to be picked up at a summer barbecue at Jack's school, Forest Lake Elementary, but she never makes it to the event.
"We're always away that week," she said, adding that she then has to buy the items individually. "I don't save any money that way."
While back-to-school shopping can frustrate any parent, it has been a particularly tough couple of years for Tanya Bostick and her family, who were displaced from their Far Rockaway home after superstorm Sandy nearly two years ago.
They stayed in a hotel for a year and then moved to temporary housing in Uniondale.
Bostick, mother to Bernard Gerald, 12, and grandmother to Beautiful Bostick, 6, spent the morning inside Old Navy in Garden City, thumbing through piles of clothing to help prepare the children for school.
Bernard, tall and soft-spoken, held a white plastic bag filled with jeans and khakis, while Beautiful, the white and pink beads in her hair clinking as she pranced, talked joyfully about what she looks forward to most this year.
"I like art," she said, standing in front of the store's entrance. "I like to do handprints and paint pictures."
Both children attend school in Queens and commute there every day. It's hard on them, Bostick said, but she's grateful for the continuity in their education.
Haneet Singh, 37, of Dix Hills, wasn't as concerned about the gear as she was about getting her two children -- one in elementary and the other in middle school -- back into a routine.
"That's the hard part," said Singh, standing inside a Walmart in Farmingdale. "Getting them back on track."