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Sherri Richards, Published August 09 2009

United Way helps send kids back to school

Four-year-old Alaia Blua’s eyes lit up at her new backpack, decorated with hearts and an anime character’s face.

The Fargo girl was one of nearly 2,000 schoolchildren to receive supply-filled backpacks Saturday morning through the United Way of Cass-Clay’s annual school supply drive.

“We do it every year,” said Michelle Blua, Alaia’s mother. She is a single parent who also has a 13- and 15-year-old. “It means a lot. When you spend $100, $200 (on school supplies), this way you don’t have to spend so much.”

The backpacks are filled with notebooks, pencil boxes, markers, highlighters, binders and other supplies. This is the 11th annual school supply drive.

“We believe that when you start school on level with your peers, it’s not only a self-esteem boost, but we’re giving them the physical tools to be successful in school,” said Thomas Hill, a United Way employee.

There were 3,000 fully packed bags piled according to grade category in an upper-level room of the Fargodome on Saturday morning. More supplies and bags lined the side of the room, waiting to be assembled.

Two more distribution events will be held from 4 to 8 p.m. Thursday in West Fargo and in Moorhead.

While no one is denied a backpack based on income, most of the families also receive free or reduced-price school lunches, meaning their annual household income is less than $15,000.

Organizers expect to distribute about 4,000 bags this year, including the 1,944 given out from 7 to 11 a.m. Saturday.

Last year, more than 3,700 backpacks were distributed, including 1,397 at the dome.

“We knew that the economy could be an issue, but as our community is growing, the need could be growing, too,” Hill said.

By the time Hill arrived at 5:15 a.m. Saturday, about 15 people were already in line, he said. By 6:30 a.m., the line wrapped around the front of the Fargodome.

Some parents asked for Spider-Man or Dora the Explorer backpacks for the youngest students. Volunteers scoured the kindergarten through second-grade pile to meet these requests.

Tanya DeMontigny of Moorhead picked up bags for her three children and her nephew. She said her kindergartner wanted a pink backpack.

DeMontigny was happy to receive the extra help. She’s a full-time student working part time.

“It does help with the budget,” she said.

If you go

Volunteers are needed to fill and distribute bags. Call Thomas Hill at (701) 237-5050.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Sherri Richards at (701) 235-7311