COON RAPIDS, Minn. -- A line stretches halfway around Coon Rapids High School. Hundreds of families brave the late summer heat to pick up free back-to-school supplies for their students in the Anoka Hennepin School district.
Karrie Schaaf, Homeless Youth and Families Liaison for the district explained, "Times are tough. We want to make sure students get off on the right foot this year."
Coon Rapids has become the second high school in the district to host such an event. School counselor Amy Harnack started one at Champlin Park the year before and was amazed at the turnout. That event served 180 students. This year, 250 came through.
Coon Rapids saw even more, 450 Anoka Hennepin students. The event does not ask families to prove need. It's there for any student in the district, but it's clear, the freebies are providing tangible economic relief.
"I'm raising five grandchildren," said Carlie Macey, who was snagging backpacks and other supplies. "This helps me out tremendously."
Macey couldn't stop thanking volunteers who also handed out binders, pencils, winter clothing, even supplies from the school's food shelf.
Volunteers also showed up to provide free professional haircuts. Medical professionals were also on hand to provide free dental exams and back-to-school medical check-ups.
While this event is designed to prevent barriers for students as they head into a new school year, Schaaf sees critical needs throughout the year. Last year the district identified more than 560 students in the district experiencing some type of homelessness. This year, the number has doubled.
Schaaf anticipates the back-to-school giveaway will continue next year, perhaps at additional schools, or it might rotate, depending on the location of families in need. She sees it as an investment in the future.
"If we can provide a nice haircut, some new clothes, some winter items, some school supplies to get the year off, why not?" said Schaaf. "It's just an easy, great way to support the community and support the student."
(Copyright 2012 by KARE. All rights reserved.)