PORTAGE COUNTY, Wis. (WAOW) -- For 24 years the United Way of Portage County has hosted "Project Fresh Start" to make a difference in the community.
The program is a school supply drive for any students attending a Portage County school, who qualifies for free and reduced priced meals.
Around 3,000 students in Portage County qualify for the free and reduced meal program. A large percentage of those 3,000 students take advantage of "Project Fresh Start," but the need for donated school supplies is at an all time high because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and parent's financial strain that's associated with it.
“Every year school supplies is a financial strain for families, but this year we’ve had a lot more of a need in this community for other basic needs such as rent or different things you utilize in a family,” United Way of Portage County Community Services Director Kelly Skeels said.
“We know that COVID has made a a big difference for many families,” United Way of Portage County Executive Director Sue Wilcox said. "Parents; they might be unemployed or underemployed, and being able to buy those extra things for kids so that they’re prepared to go back to school makes it even more difficult.”
"Project Fresh Start" is more than just supplying students in need with materials, but the supplies represent a sense of belonging as students are still finding where they fit in among their peers.
“That is a huge developmental stage for a lot of kids, is going through school," Skeels said. "It’s really difficult when they don’t come in having the supplies they need. They need those supplies to learn and if they’re not able to learn they’re not going to feel like they can succeed or feel included."
"Having those tools that every other child has makes that happen; where kids can be apart and feel apart of their classroom environment,” Wilcox added.
United Way of Portage County is currently a quarter of the way to their school supply collection goal. While every school supply is needed, there is a large need for backpacks, crayons, and pencils.
For more information on how you can get involved, you can click here.