FARGO - The United Way of Cass-Clay announced a goal of securing 6,000 filled backpacks at the launch of its 20th annual School Supply Drive Wednesday, July 11, at the Scheels store on 45th Street South.

Bill Nelson, president of Scheels, kicked off the campaign by announcing a donation of 500 backpacks.

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"We're proud to be a partner with the United Way and have been since its inception in 1998 when we kicked this off," Nelson said. "Thousands of students have been impacted through this great program."

The drive helped 5,800 students in 65 schools across Cass and Clay Counties in 2017.

President Kristi Huber said the school supply drive supports the United Way's "bold goal of preparing children to succeed in our community." Furthermore, she said they know the campaign is helping the right students because of data collected during donation events.

"We know that last year over 83 percent of the families that were there reported that they had children participating in the free or reduced lunch program in their schools," Huber said. "We know that their median income is somewhere around $34,000 a year. So, for these families, many of them have to choose between either paying some bills or getting their kids ready for school."

Rachel Lerum, a counselor at Horizon Middle School in Moorhead, was on hand to share what a difference a new backpack and supplies can make for a child.

She began by sharing memories of her own excitement over new school supplies as a child.

"I can still remember the scent of fresh crayons, the feeling of the notebook paper on my fingers," she said. "And I remember the joy in purchasing and picking out my backpack for the year."

Lerum said all students deserve to feel that excitement for the first day of school.

But the United Way School Supply Drive is about so much more than backpacks and supplies, she said.

"Coming to school and to class with necessary supplies allows all students equal opportunities to that aspect of learning and growing. ... It instills confidence and a sense of self-worth. Confidence is key to learning and success for young people," she said.

How to help

Tiffany McShane, United Way's community engagement director and leader of this year's school supply drive, closed out Wednesday's event by explaining four ways the community can get involved in this year's campaign.

• Donate supplies. All supplies should be delivered to the Fargodome by 4 p.m. July 27.

• Organize a supply drive. Supplies most in need include backpacks, pencil pouches, glue sticks and glue bottles, highlighters and rulers, markers and colored pencils, erasers and red pens, 2-pocket folders, loose leaf paper, spiral notebooks and composition notebooks.

• Donate money. In honor of its 20th anniversary, the United Way is asking residents to consider making a $20 donation at its website at www.unitedwaycassclay.org. The United Way is able to leverage a $20 donation to provide a backpack and supplies for one student.

• Volunteer. Opportunities or organize supplies and fill backpacks will be held between July 24 and Aug. 7. Volunteers are also needed during the backpack distribution events from 8 to 11:30 a.m. Aug. 4 and 4 to 7 p.m. Aug 7 at the Fargodome.