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United Way Stuff the Bus drive will provide school supplies for local families who are in need

Josh Christoffers looks over backpacks Wednesday at Target in Willmar. A confessed school supplies devotee, Christoffers was considering an upgrade before he goes back to college. For some local families, backpacks and other school supplies are additions to the list of things they just can't afford right now. However, the United Way's latest campaign looks to offer them a helping hand. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

Jennifer Bestland looked over a list of items a fourth-grader and kindergartner need to head back to school.

Son Shaun, 5, sat in a bright red Target cart Wednesday afternoon and pointed at everything he wanted, which was, well, everything.

Shaun is excited to be starting kindergarten next month at Bert Raney Elementary School in Granite Falls.

The bright packages and displays in the Willmar Target's school supply section had his eyes darting. "Let's go to the pencils," he said, and pointed.

Son Bryant, 9½, said he was looking forward to school but didn't find shopping for pencils very exciting.

He disappeared into the toy department occasionally.

Bestland said they make a trip every year to take care of the school supply lists.

Josh Christoffers was looking over backpacks nearby. He doesn't really need one, said the 2008 graduate of Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City High School, but he might want an upgrade before he goes back to college.

Christoffers confessed that he's a school supply devotee, something that runs in his family. He can't go near the colored pencils without taking some home, he said, laughing, and he's still drawn to the locker accessories, even though he doesn't have a locker anymore.

For people like Christoffers, this is a great time of year. Stores are selling folders for a dime and packs of pencils for 9 cents. Colorful advertisements promote rebates and buy-one-get-one offers.

For families like the Bestlands, the new pencils, notebooks and markers are tangible signs of a new school year just around the corner.

For others, pencil boxes and backpacks are additions to the list of things they just can't afford right now.

That's where the United Way of West Central Minnesota steps in. The United Way's Stuff the Bus campaign is collecting school supplies for needy children in the area.

People who can afford school supplies for their own kids can take advantage of sales to donate other supplies to the drive. People who don't have kids can just have fun at the sales.

Supplies will be collected at many businesses in the area for the next week.

A school bus will be parked from 7 to 9 a.m. Aug. 13 at the Dairy Queen on First Street and from 9 a.m. to noon on Aug. 14 at Wal-Mart to accept donations from the public. Willmar Bus Service is donating use of the bus.

The morning of Aug. 16, Willmar High School football players will unload the bus at Jefferson Learning Center in Willmar. Principals and counselors from area schools will be able to go there to pick up the supplies they need for their schools. Willmar child guides will do the same, and the leftovers will be kept to distribute as needed throughout the school year.

"There's lots of ways families in need can get food," said Stacey Roberts, executive director of the United Way. "It's hard for families in need to get non-food items; these drives do help people."

Christine Hilbert, a child guide in the Willmar School District, said the need for school supplies for low-income students is always there. Each classroom has a list of items each student should have for the first day of school. They can include crayons, pens, pencils, pencil boxes and notebooks. It's not unusual to see things like hand sanitizer, paper towels and plastic sandwich bags on the lists, too.

For a large family, "it does add up to quite a bit," she said.

The economy has added to the school supply need in recent years, Hilbert said. "We see families that are trying to make their dollars stretch."

For people who can get to sales, the cost can be controlled somewhat, but not everything on a list is on sale in the same week.

"Some families are so busy with the basic chores of life," Hilbert said, and hunting out all the sales takes time and burns gas.

People who need help providing their children's school supplies should call their children's schools to let someone know what they need, said Gina Lieser, resource development director for United Way.

Those who don't need a hand can offer one. "When you're buying for your kids, you can buy a second set for a child in need," Roberts suggested.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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