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Back2School is back

Annual project provides needed supplies

BROOKINGS – School’s tough. It’s even tougher when you don’t have the supplies you need. 

But there’s a program that works to ensure that all K-12 students in Brookings County have the school supplies they need when that first day of classes comes around.

The Brookings Family Back2School Project dates back to 2008, when community members came together and recognized a need for obtaining school supplies for children. The fallout was a one-day event where pre-registered K-12 children in Brookings County could obtain those supplies.

Among others leading the charge this year are project coordinators Dawn Johnson, Jan Stange and Joyce Wrage. The “shopping day” is Thursday, Aug. 8, from 11 a.m. until about 8 p.m. From startup until 7 p.m., pre-registered children will be served; in the remaining hour any children who have not been registered, but have a need, can come in with a parent and get supplies.

”We might not have absolutely everything (in that final hour), but just about,” Johnson said. “We try to have extras of everything, so that every child can get what they need.”

Registration forms, still available in both English and Spanish at the Department of Social Services, have already been widely disseminated: sent home at the last day of the previous school year; put in the “backpacks” of those children enrolled in that food program; distributed at the Harvest Table; and available on the web pages of all schools in Brookings County.

Pre-registration needed

“Families fill this (form) out and turn it in by July 29. We’re well over 330 kids already pre-registered,” Johnson said. “This basically says if you have a need – we’re not pre-checking anything – if you have a financial need, you’re automatically eligible, so to speak, as long as your child is going to school in Brookings County. A ‘sense of need,’ that’s good enough for us.

“We determine how many kids per grade per school we have, so we can stock our store accordingly.” Pre-school children are not counted and are not eligible for the program.

To keep its budget where it needs to be, the program “applies for multiple grants each year, asks for donations from area businesses.”

“We also at this time have multiple totes that are at businesses throughout town where businesses do drives among the employees to gather supplies. We take money, we take the actual school supplies as far as donations go,” Johnson explained.

“And the churches are also very supportive of it,” Stange added. “So we have totes at most of our area churches.” The totes have supply lists in them, so people wanting to make donations know what school supplies to select. Of course, all donated items should be new and if packaged be unopened. 

Another plus for pre-registration is a $25 certificate that can be used for the purchase of a new pair of shoes. The program vendor is Shoe Sensation in Brookings. Johnson and Stange noted that this piece of the program “is a huge part of our (annual) budget, $11,000 to $16,000 depending on the number of kids (in the program that year).”

All-volunteer effort 

According to Johnson, Back2School has grown tremendously in the number of children served: 550 in 2018; 577 in 2017; and 488 in 2016. At its inception in 2008, the program served 258.

“So we’ve grown tremendously,” she added. “We’ll see where this year takes us; it’s kind of hard to predict.”

The bulk of funding for the program, about $9,000 annually, comes from grants: First Bank & Trust, TransCanada, Walmart, Northwestern Energy, Sioux Valley Energy and Thrivent Financial.

“They’ve been very generous over the years. We’re a 501c3 nonprofit, so we can register for these grants,” Johnson explained.

“And there’s a lot of little gifts from people,” Stange added. “Anywhere from $10 to $25 to maybe $100. Those just add up and help tremendously. There’s a ton of people that help in the community. If it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t be able to do this.”

The day of the event about 75 to 100 volunteers put it all together.

“The children are assigned a personal shopper who has a list of supplies that are needed,” Johnson explained. “While the personal shopper is taking the child around the store, the parents are visiting booths with information about services in town.

“For example: the library, Children’s Museum, housing assistance.”

This year’s shopping day is Aug. 8, at Faith Reformed Church, 1330 Main Ave. S., Brookings. Scheduled times are based on the first letter of the parent’s last name, as follows: A-F, 11 a.m.-1 p.m.; G-L, 1-3 p.m.; S-Z, 3-5 p.m.; and M-R, 5-7 p.m. Regardless of the time slot, supplies will be available.

Questions about the program should be directed to: Dawn Johnson, 688-4330, ext. 212; Jan Stange, 692-8066; or Joyce Wrage, 690-9803.

COURTESY OF: The Brookings Register

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