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Come together: Community helps provide school supplies to families in need

Crayons sit on top of a composition notebooks. The Back-to-School Supply Drive takes place on August 22. (Meagan Pittelko/Tribune)1 / 5
A monetary donation container sits on a table at Midwest Bank. Cash and checks are accepted in addition to supply donations. (Meagan Pittelko/Tribune)2 / 5
Markers sit in a pile on a shelf. Markers, crayons, colored pencils, regular pencils and more are on the list of items needed. (Meagan Pittelko/Tribune)3 / 5
Backpacks cover the lobby of Midwest Bank. Children are able to pick their own backpack and fill it with supplies on the 22nd. (Meagan Pittelko/Tribune)4 / 5
A table containing information is set up in the Midwest Bank lobby. Donations will be accepted through August 21. (Meagan Pittelko/Tribune)5 / 5

It's that time of the year: crayons and bottles of glittery glue line the shelves at local stores, extensive supply lists fill parents' mailboxes and the back-to-school buzz in the air is palpable.

In Becker County alone, though, according to the most recent data from the Children's Defense Fund-Minnesota, 19.1 percent of children (ages 0-17 years) were living in poverty in 2014--making back-to-school shopping a financial burden for many families struggling with already-tight budgets.

Armed with that knowledge, the community is working together to lessen that burden through the fourth annual Back-to-School Supply Drive.

"The amount that it costs to send a child to school is rising," said Annie Vigen, a registered nurse at Becker County Community Health and founding member of the drive. "In the past, we've had people lined up for an hour before the drive, so you know the need is there."

This year's drive will culminate in a pick-up event on August 22 at the Holmes Theater, which runs from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. and is first-come, first-serve. Supplies are currently being collected and will continue to be collected until that point, Vigen said.

Local businesses such as Anytime Fitness, Active Nutrition and Midwest Bank--not to mention a wealth of volunteers--are involved in ensuring the success of the drive but, ultimately, it's community members who will determine how many children receive supplies.

"The biggest contributor we've had is Northern Lights Dance Academy out of Frazee, because they have donated all of their proceeds from their dance show in the past," Vigen said. "This is all about our community, so we run off of donations."

And the community hasn't disappointed, she said. In 2014, the drive provided 50-60 backpacks to children in the area--a number that rose to over 300 backpacks last year.

"It just kind of blew up, and it's a wonderful service that we provide," Vigen added.

Coleen Froke, who works at Midwest Bank, first got involved in the drive last year and said that she loves seeing the faces of the children who come in to pick up their backpacks.

"It's really heartwarming to watch," she said. "At first, I thought it would be all younger kids, but there are a lot of older kids who take it upon themselves to come in, too, without a parent."

Supplies are provided to students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade. According to last year's data, students from 13 area schools received supplies, including students from Detroit Lakes, Circle of Life, Frazee, Lake Park-Audubon, Menagha, Ogema, Park Rapids, White Earth, Waubun and more.

"I'm so impressed by both the need and the generosity of the community," Froke added.

Families in need are encouraged to contact Vigen at 218-847-5628 (ext. 5419) or Froke at 218-844-2988. They will then receive a voucher to be presented at supply pick-up.

After all of the donations are collected--and transported by the Detroit Lakes football team, according to Vigen--children get to pick out their own supplies at the shopping-style event at the Holmes Theater.

"We have stations where they can pick out their own backpacks and crayons and such," she said. "The kids get to feel involved in it."

Supplies needed include pencils, glue sticks/bottles, trapper keepers, markers, colored pencils, crayons, pencil pouches, two-pocket folders, pens, scissors, spiral notebooks, pencil sharpeners, three-ring binders, three-hole loose leaf paper, composition notebooks, highlighters, erasers, pencil boxes, watercolor paints and backpacks. Monetary donations are also accepted.

"We're not picky," Vigen said. "It's just so important for the kids to get the supplies they need to learn. They're our future."

Supplies are being collected at Midwest Bank (613 Hwy. 10 E), Edward Jones (1252 Washington Ave), Anytime Fitness (1647 Hwy. 10 W), Becker County (712 Minn. Ave) and Active Nutrition (1150 Washington Ave). There is also a fund set up at Midwest Bank to accept monetary donations, Vigen explained.

"These kids need to get the supplies they need to learn," she said. "I'm very thankful that we're able to do this--to provide this for our kids and give back."