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Need for school supplies continues to grow during annual ‘Project Freshstart’

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PORTAGE COUNTY, Wis. (WAOW) -- The 24th annual United Way of Portage County's "Project Freshstart" kicked off in early July.

The program is a school supply drive for any students attending a Portage County school, who qualifies for free and reduced priced meals. Portage County accounts for 27 different municipalities.

Around 3,000 students in Portage County qualify for the free and reduced meal program, with more than 800 usually taking advantage of it. However, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, almost 1,100 kids will be served this year. Many families have faced additional financial strain because of the pandemic.

"Some families are finding that they're going to have to spend money on different areas, such as basic needs," United Way of Portage County Community Services Director Kelly Skeels said. "So if we can supply school supplies for them, that'll help them be able to spend money on different needs."

There is a change because of the pandemic: United Way will not be personally delivering the supplies. Instead, supplies will be given to schools in Portage County, which will in turn be distributed to the families in need that qualified for the program and listed their intended school.

"We are aiming for roughly 28,000 individual supplies and we have about 21,000 right now, so we're about 3/4 of the way," Skeels added.

From talking to parents so far, Skeels said she believes some family situations may change from now until the start of the school year in September, and is expecting the number of students in need to increase over the next month.

Some school districts in Portage County have announced a hybrid plan for the upcoming school year, or a mixture of e-learning and in-person instruction. United Way of Portage County has looked into supplying materials for virtual learning if needed, ensuring families that qualify can still reach out and ask for whatever supplies they need.

To lend a helping hand through donating physical supplies or monetary donations click here.

Rashad Williams

News 9 Reporter

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