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Free backpack program announced for Carlton County students

With the start of school only a month away, local groups hope to give away free backpacks - filled with school supplies - to any child in Carlton County who needs one. And they plan to make a party of it.

Thus, the first Carlton County Back to School BBQ and Backpacks event is planned for Saturday, Aug. 20, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Cloquet's Veterans Park.

Children have to be pre-registered by Aug. 18; call the Salvation Army at 218-879-5447 or 218-879-1693 between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Monday through Friday to provide their name, age and school. The only requirement is to reside in Carlton County.

United Way Carlton County executive director Sarah Buhs explained this week that various groups have run their own backpack programs, but this year the Salvation Army, the Cloquet schools' Stuff the Bus drive and the United Way are working together to benefit kids countywide.

"It's great that everyone wants to help, but our goal this year was to join forces and combine efforts to have one big event," Buhs said.

It won't be only hot dogs and school supplies at the free event.

The Cloquet Library and Fond du Lac Language Program are planning a Story Stroll on "Rabbit and Otter Go Sugarbushing," written by Cloquet author Liz Granholm and published by local Native publisher Black Bears and Blueberries Publishing in English and Ojibwe.

The Fond du Lac Language Program will also be giving away 100 copies of the book to children who attend the story stroll.

The National Guard is bringing a rock climbing wall, and other organizations offering resources for children and families will be there.

Buhs said she's hoping for even more.

"We're still building this, people are still getting back to us," she said.

Anyone who would like to donate time as a volunteer to stuff backpacks is invited to call the United Way at 218-879-8404.

People can also give money (write checks to United Way of Carlton County with "B2S" on the memo line) or donate supplies to one of the Back to School donation boxes at area churches and businesses by Aug. 15.

"So far we've gotten a lot of support from the community in terms of supplies, volunteers and money," Buhs said. "We're able to do a lot together; the goal is to continue this every year."