In most years past, the first day of school is a day of nervous excitement. Who will be in your class? What adventuresome stories will your friends tell you about their summers? How long will you be able to preserve your pristine crayon pack?
But this year is different. As the summer is coming to an end, we’ve all found ourselves questioning what “normalcy” means. Grins are hidden under masks. No reuniting with big hugs. And possibly of hybrid virtual and in-person classes.
But this isn’t to paint the overall picture with a negative brush. In the midst of everything going on, there are ways to uphold the joy and positive energy that come along with a new school year. For many students, one of these joys comes in the form of new school supplies. Back-to-school shopping is a ritual for many families, signaling the start of a fresh adventure. Sure the notebook from last year still has hundreds of open pages. And sure, there are still pens with plenty of ink in them. But there’s just something about shiny new school supplies that gives confidence and a sense of endless possibilities.
But for the families of the over 5,000 kids living in poverty in Cass and Clay Counties, back-to-school looks even more different. Hand-me-down backpacks don’t confidently hold hopes for success. And pencils sharpened to a nub don’t write their way to new ideas.
It takes a whole community’s worth of efforts in ensuring every child that returns to school is set up for success. To make certain all children in our community are given the tools to succeed in the classroom, The United Way of Cass- Clay puts on their annual School Supply Drive. In years past and this tumultuous year alike, this drive provides over 6,000 backpacks filled with supplies to K-12 students in need. In 2019, 6,033 students were equipped with a backpack and new school supplies thanks to this drive. When a child is well-prepared and succeeds in school, we all win.
The United Way is a national network of nearly 1,300 local organizations that work to advance the common good by focusing on education, income and health. Helping people is at the center of what The United Way does, tackling the source, not just the symptoms, of key issues in our community. By doing so, they are on the path to creating real, lasting change by shifting how people, organizations and systems all work together.
Based on school data, more than 10,000 K-12 students in Cass and Clay Counties access free and reduced-lunch programs. We also know that one in nine local children under the age of 17 live 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.
In the midst of nation-wide economic hardships as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, more students will be in need of what this drive can offer. While the success of this drive is always important, this year will obviously look different. Nothing will be “normal,” but what won’t be different is that kids will go back to school. And no matter what their standard back-to-school shopping looks like – this drive can perhaps add some much-needed normalcy into this historically different back-to-school season.
SCHEELS makes for a natural partner in this type of drive, as they carry a lot of back-to-school essentials in their stores and they have the same mission of bettering the community. SCHEELS has been a proud backpack sponsor for the United Way’s annual school supply drive for over 20 years and is excited to continue that tradition this year too. Both The United Way and SCHEELS know that it takes everyone in the community working together to create better, brighter futures, which is why their ongoing partnership has been so successful.
We sat down with some of the team at SCHEELS and discussed what it means to participate in this drive year after year and how they hope to equip area children for the best year possible.
SCHEELS recognizes how fortunate they are that they’ve seen such success with their company. And they know that this is all thanks to the vibrant communities they exist in. To repay the communities they feel lucky to be a part of, SCHEELS is dedicated to community-betterment initiatives. Each year, one of their big fundraising efforts is being the backpack sponsor for The United Way of Cass-Clay’s School Supply Drive.
“SCHEELS has definitely always been committed to giving back to the community and we really care about the communities we are a part of. We do our best to try and support the communities that support us, and our involvement in the back-to-school drive is just one piece of that. It is something we are proud to participate in every year,” said Samantha Brant, an e-commerce merchandiser at SCHEELS.
John Burt, Assistant Store Leader at SCHEELS, has been with the company for over 22 years. When asked why it was important that he work for a company that participates in such charitable drives, he laughed. “It’s an odd question, honestly,” he said. “The reason it is odd is, at face value, it makes sense to just say, ‘Yeah, [SCHEELS] could just choose not to do that.’ Things are uncertain, not only for families that are going back to school but for businesses too. But it is not who we are. An important part of who SCHEELS is is we want to do well for us and our associates, but also for our communities. So I don’t even think it is a choice as far as ‘Should we do that?’ Of course we should do this. The need now is greater than ever. It is vital for us to be an important part of that.”
Being the backpack sponsor of the School Supply Drive with the United Way isn’t close to being the only piece of community- involvement SCHEELS participates in. Just last year, 494 SCHEELS associates volunteered a total of 3,285 hours. Associates work to make a difference every day by getting involved in everything from United Way campaigns to volunteering at community service organizations. Time after time, when asked about why the company is dedicated to such deeds, various staff answered with, “It’s just in the company DNA.”
To encourage participation within the company, SCHEELS hosts “mini-drives” within their office, setting up donation bins around the building and even having department-specific competitions. However, it doesn’t take much to get these employees fired up about serving their community. “At SCHEELS, giving back to the community is one of our main pillars and we are passionate about getting connected. No matter what is going on, we are always going to make doing this a priority,” said Sydney Wurzer, Advertising Project Manager at SCHEELS. “We do good in our communities and United Way is such a great partner that we will do whatever we can to make their drive as successful as possible to help all our local children.”
Back-to-school season is a big time of year for SCHEELS stores, so still harnessing that excitement this year was important to the company. Being a retailer that sells a lot of back-to-school supplies, they are uniquely positioned to knowing how important it is and how it will look different this year. “School is a big part of [normalcy] in a kid’s life. Being in that setting, seeing people and learning is very important to them. So getting them equipped to have the best year they can, even amidst everything that is happening, that’s all we can do and all we can ask for,” said Chad Bjornson, Creative Media Project Manager at SCHEELS.
Even as adults, the rest of this year is stressful and uncertain. So for children heading back to school, we can only imagine that those feelings are multiplied. We don’t know what lies ahead, but we do know what has made us feel safe, confident and secure in the past, and United Way and SCHEELS are dedicated to upholding those keystones. Now more than ever, the comfort that comes with a fresh binder or a pack of college-ruled paper is one adults and children alike can hold on to.
“I think this year, there are some families that need assistance that didn’t need assistance before,” said Brant, noting that, if we can come together and make this drive as successful as possible, it’ll play a part in easing some of the unpredictability.
“You can’t say it enough: There are so many uncertainties with what back-to-school means to the business, to the community. It is kind of the symbol of a resurgence. It’s getting people back together and to a sense of normal pattern. […] Obviously, we are never going to be the same after this, but what we can do right now is make a difference and ensure the kids that need to go back to school feel their best and look their best and give it their all,” said Bjornson. Burt optimistically added to the sentiment, “As we hand [the backpacks] out, a little self-confidence and self- worth go with them.”
From donating hundreds of new backpacks to volunteering to pack the bags at the Fargodome to handing them out to students, SCHEELS is proud to be partnered with United Way. Thanks to the generosity and passion of our community, we all can face whatever lies ahead with some pep in our step and a shiny, bright backpack on our backs.
Families in need can attend one of these distribution events. We ask that families attend one distribution at one of the three available times at a location within their school district.
Fargo Public Schools
Tuesday, August 18:
• 4-5 p.m.: Davies High School (7150 25th St S, Fargo, ND 58104, Door 7)
Thursday, August 20:
• 8-9 a.m.: North High School (801 17th Ave N, Fargo, ND 58102, Door 30)
• 11 a.m.-Noon: South High School (1840 15th Ave S, Fargo, ND 58103, Door 21)
West Fargo Public Schools
Tuesday, August 11:
• 4-5 p.m.: Cheney Middle School (825 17th Ave E, West Fargo, ND 58078, Door 1)
Thursday, August 13:
• 8-9 a.m.: Willow Park Elementary School (4901 15th Ave S, Fargo, ND 58103, Door 1)
• 11 a.m.-Noon: Aurora Elementary School (3420 9th St W, West Fargo, ND 58078, Door 1)
Moorhead Area Public Schools
Monday, August 17:
• 8-9 a.m.: SG Reinertsen Elementary (1201 40th Ave S, Moorhead, MN 56560, Door 1)
Wednesday, August 19:
• 11a.m.-Noon: Robert Asp Elementary School (910 11th St N, Moorhead, MN 56560, Door 1)
• 4-5 p.m.: Ellen Hopkins Elementary School (2020 11th St S, Moorhead, MN 56560, Door 1)
• For the safety of all, families should remain in their vehicles and we ask those engaging with United Way volunteers wear a mask.
• Families will be asked to complete one registration form per family – forms will be available when you arrive.
• Please bring a form of ID for each child who will be receiving school supplies. Acceptable forms of ID include social security card, passport, school ID, insurance card or report card.
• Backpacks and school supplies are available for K-12 students in need who attend school in Cass or Clay county.
• Families who are unable to attend one of the distribution events should contact their school district. Our goal is for United Way to provide each school district with a limited quantity of backpacks that can be available students in need who are unable to attend a distribution event.
Do You Have Questions About The School Supply Drive?