Photos by J. Alan Paul Photography & courtesy of United Way of Cass-Clay
Imagine walking into third grade for the first day of school. The little boy next to you on the bus has a brand-new Superman backpack, and he pulls a few pencils out of the pocket of his new pair of jeans. The little girl across the aisle has a sparkly, pink backpack and is sporting equally sparkly, white shoes.
You look down at your lap and try to hide your backpack, which is a crumpled, white, plastic grocery bag with a nearly empty notebook and a few short pencils. You tuck your feet up under the seat so they don’t see your tennis shoes with the holes in them and the laces that aren’t long enough. You rush off the bus and keep your head down, looking at the sidewalk as you walk sheepishly into the doors of the school to find your classroom, hoping no one notices you.
How would this scene be different if you had a new backpack you could be proud of? Would you hold your head high and confident as you walked into school? Ready to meet new friends? Ready to take on the activities and homework your teacher would assign?
SCHEELS CFO & VP of Finance Michelle Killoran volunteers at the United Way School Supply Drive with her husband, Nick, and daughters.
1. More than 25,000 people in Cass and Clay Counties live in poverty
That could fill SCHEELS Arena four times! One in nine local children under the age of 17 lives in poverty. That’s 5,500 kids.
2. SCHEELS donates hundreds of backpacks each year
This year, SCHEELS will donate 400 backpacks to middle school and high-school students. These high-quality backpacks are always the backpacks that go quickly when families come to the FargoDome to receive their supplies.
“We take pride in being able to improve the lives of others,” says SCHEELS Fargo Store Leader Trevor Klein. “That’s why we donate our time, energy and resources to United Way projects like the School Supply Drive. We see the direct impact it has on our community.”
3. The need is great
Based on school data, we know that more than 10,000 K-12 students in Cass and Clay Counties access free- and reduced-lunch programs. We also know that there are more than 5,500 children living in poverty in this very community. These families are often making choices about whether to pay their bills or buy new school supplies and clothes for their children going back to school.
Last year, nearly 80 percent of the students who received supplies self-reported being enrolled in a free- and reduced-lunch program. This community program is impacting families in need.
4. The biggest need isn’t in our elementary schools
One of the most surprising facts about the School Supply Drive is that it primarily serves elementary-school kids, but there is a great need for school supplies for middle- and high-school students as well. Last year, half the backpacks—nearly 3,000 of them—went to help kids in middle school and high school.
5. More than 500 volunteers from 90 local businesses participated last year
Engaged employees = better corporate culture. Imagine what a heap of 5,000 empty backpacks looks like. Now imagine how many volunteers it takes to fill each one with all of the notebooks, pencils, crayons and markers needed.
Many local businesses choose the School Supply Drive as an opportunity for team development and to build camaraderie among their coworkers and leadership teams. As many workplaces seek ways to build a good culture at their workplace, the School Supply Drive is a way for employees to give back together by organizing a supply drive in the lobby of their workplace or going shopping together to buy supplies to donate.
6. Kids can volunteer, too!
For many parents, the United Way School Supply Drive is an opportunity to teach their own children to be aware that not all kids are as fortunate as they are when it comes to the opportunity to go back-to-school shopping and load up on supplies and cool new clothes.
“My husband and I volunteer for the School Supply Drive with our three young girls because we want to show them that not all families are as fortunate as ours,” says Michelle Killoran, CFO and VP of finance at SCHEELS. “Going to the FargoDome to pack and organize supplies gives our girls the opportunity to give back to the students they see every day at school.”
7. Every public school in Fargo, West Fargo and Moorhead had students who received school supplies from United Way last year
More than 65 schools throughout Cass and Clay counties received supplies last year and had students walk through their doors with the supplies they need to succeed.
8. Nearly 6,000 students were impacted last year, with the majority in grades 3-5
- Grades K-2: 1,494 students
- Grades 3-5: 1,504 students
- Grades 6-8: 1,405 students
- Grades 9-12: 1,451 students
9. It costs about $20 for United Way to equip one child with a backpack and set of school supplies
While we are grateful for all of the donations we receive, the way to make the biggest impact is to donate financially. Because of relationships and partnerships we have in the community, United Way is able to leverage the dollars people give by buying supplies in bulk. Giving financially means helping more kids.
10. The School Supply Drive impacts our teachers, too.
“The teachers, counselors and staff in our schools have enormous hearts,” says Rachel Lerum, a counselor at Horizon Middle School in Moorhead. “We have stashes of supplies that we purchase out of our own pockets for students, but when kids come to school with supplies from United Way, students in need don’t have to wait until we, as a staff, figure out that they need something. It eliminates the barrier of students needing to seek support and ask for supplies at school, which can be so shameful for many kids.”
11. Poverty is a cycle
A student who doesn’t graduate from high school is two times more likely to live in poverty throughout adulthood.
Having school supplies is one of the first steps to giving students the tools and confidence they need to succeed. If we as a community can prepare young people for the right path to success, we can stop the cycle of poverty and allow young people to grow into successful adults.
12. A workforce development strategy
United Way sees the School Supply Drive as a workforce development strategy. More school supplies = a better-prepared future workforce.
“In our community, with regard to workforce, we are all trying to find great people to work at our businesses and organizations,” says Sherri Schmidt, corporate marketing, SCHEELS, “It makes sense to provide every opportunity for our youth to be successful because they are our future leaders and employees.”
Make a financial donation online at UnitedWayCassClay.org or drop off donations at:
First International Bank & Trust
All Gate City Bank locations
Great North Insurance
Moorhead Center Mall
All Walmart locations