Anoka-Hennepin helps to ease back to school pain

Pinching pennies sometimes means painful steps taken toward a new school year. Even the bare necessities can be out of reach for those in financial straits.BSEventNMS1In an effort to ease that pain, Anoka-Hennepin School District hosted its third-annual Back-to-School event Aug. 5. During that event (staged at Anoka High School, Northdale Middle School and Evergreen Park World Studies Community School) District 11 students received free school supplies, clothing, haircuts and food.

Early that morning, lines wrapped around the school buildings as students and families waited for doors to open at 10 a.m. for the first come, first served distribution of items and services.

“We got here at 8:15 because we wanted to be sure we could get what we needed before they ran out,” said Kim Gust, whose kindergarten and fourth-grade daughters received backpacks filled with school supplies and even chose a couple of outfits to wear to school, too.

“I’m glad we came. This is really a lot more than I expected,” she said.

In all more than 2,000 families took part in the Back-to-School event – almost triple last year’s number.

A grandmother who brought her granddaughters to Anoka High School for the event spoke of the help it provided.

“This is a great help to get the expense off the family,” said Lorna Welch, whose daughter became a widow at age 21 and struggles to make ends meet.

“(My daughter) has to afford housing, food – everything – on one income so just for the necessities of life … this is a great help,” she said.

According to Karrie Schaaf, homeless liaison for Anoka-Hennepin School District, that’s what the Back-to-School event is all about.

“The event provides us a way to re-use items we get from the end of the year locker clean outs and a way to get our very supportive community engaged in assisting our students and families, so students can start the year off prepared to learn,” Schaaf said.

“The community is amazing and it was because of them that we were able to meet the higher numbers of students this year.”BSEventAHS2There was increase in the number of students identified as experiencing homelessness along with an increase in the number of families struggling socio-economically – numbers that have almost tripled in the past three years, Schaaf said.

In order to make the Aug. 5 Back-to-School event happen, organizers collected supplies and financial contributions from members of the community, local businesses and churches during the weeks leading up to it.

Student council members, cheerleaders and classmates as well as other volunteers helped to sort through and display the items in the schools’ gymnasiums and lunch rooms, while hair stylists volunteered their time to give haircuts.

Members of local churches and retired and current school district staff helped to organize and guide families through the event.

In addition to the distribution of school supplies, clothing and other back to school necessities, a resource fair was also included at Anoka High School. Food shelves, homeless shelters, dental and medical health providers and law enforcement agencies offered information and services to those in need.

Schaaf described her reaction to the generosity of the community and the care and compassion demonstrated with the Back-to-School event.

“When I walked into each site before the students started coming in, I cried,” she said. “I was so impressed with all the volunteer work and the commitment that went into preparing each site so our students could participate in an event where they feel good about coming and receiving support from a community and school district that cares.”

Sue Austreng is at [email protected]