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Helmut Schmidt, Published August 14 2012

All smiles at United Way school supply drive

FARGO – If smiles can light up a room, then Amy Curtis’ school will save a lot on electric bills when she heads to class this fall.

The Fargo 6-year-old walked out of a Fargodome conference room Tuesday lugging a big pink backpack and grinning ear-to-ear.

“Yellow is my favorite color,” she confided, but “it has comfort.”

Then, looking inside, she got a surprise: a yellow spiral notebook, markers, pencils and even a ruler.

Her unexpected treasure drew a laugh.

“Can you see how big my head is?” Amy asked, holding the ruler next to her ear.

Thanks to the United Way Cass-Clay, and support from donors big and small, Amy was among at least 4,550 students who will go back to school with most, if not all, of their school supplies in hand.

Lane Weiss, who’ll start third grade in Moorhead this fall, is ready to light up his math tests. After all, his black backpack has red and yellow flames.

“I like it,” Lane said.

His mother, Nicole Weiss, said the program is a big help.

“It just takes the pressure off” of back-to-school shopping, she said, which also includes clothes, shoes and paying for activities.

“It’s one less thing we have to worry about,” Weiss said.

Tuesday’s giveaway was the second of two events this year. On Saturday, 2,311 filled backpacks were handed out, said United Way spokeswoman Kristina Hein.

Last year, 53 area schools had students that obtained supplies from the United Way, Hein said. Eligibility is determined by participation in the free and reduced lunch programs, she said.

Sherri Thomsen, president of the United Way, said the event’s volunteers and staff had the 14th annual supplies giveaway moving smoothly.

“Our volunteers and staff have this down to a science,” Thomsen said. “It feels great to see these smiling faces, knowing they’ll have the tools they need” to start school.

Volunteer Brook Spaulding of Dilworth was so determined to help out that she brought along her 3-week-old son Zayne. Zayne, in a baby carrier, snuggled asleep on her chest as she entered data for the giveaway.

“I didn’t want to miss it just because I had a baby,” said Spaulding, a fourth-year volunteer. “It’s really fun to watch the kids. It’s the best part of the whole thing.”

Hein said the United Way drive exceeded its goal of 4,550 backpacks filled with supplies, though she did not have an exact count. She said any further supplies that come in will be given to area schools to be distributed.

Quinn Granger of Fargo was another mom glad for a helping hand.

“Right now, everything is so expensive. It helps a whole lot,” Granger said.

Granger said her 7-year-old daughter Kailah Ives “freaked out” when she got to pick her backpack with its multicolor plaid pattern.

“I like it. The colors are pretty,” Kailah said, showing off the pack.

Then she realized it was heavy. Looking inside, her face lit up.

“Binders!” said Kailah, with a tiny, happy yell.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583