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Packing up for school: Bi-CAP backpacks help take a bite out of parents’ back-to-school expenses

Bi-CAP Head Start student Jason Jenkins selects a backpack on Wednesday in Bemidji. Bi-CAP donates backpacks filled with school supplies every year to area youth. (Jordan Shearer | Bemidji Pioneer) 1 / 3
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BEMIDJI—Finding the money for back-to-school supplies can be tough for some families in Beltrami and Cass counties, where an estimated 15 percent of residents live in poverty.

That's one reason Bemidji's Bi-County Community Action Programs office gives away hundreds of backpacks and school supplies as each school year approaches. This year, The Salvation Army spent about $10,000 on more than 600 backpacks filled with notebooks, pencils, art supplies and more for area students.

The free gear can offset an expense that some parents struggle to find money for, Bi-CAP staff explained said.

"When the little extra things come up, we try to help out when we can," said Joan VanGrinsven, an office and weatherization specialist in the Bemidji office.

Bi-CAP staff gave away about 200 backpacks last week at the Bemidji-area Boys & Girls Club. A few strategically placed Facebook posts on Tuesday brought a deluge of parents and reduced the program's supply to about 100 by Wednesday.

Two parents who spoke with the Pioneer said the giveaway takes a bite out of their back-to-school expenses.

"This offsets most of it," said Jeremy Jenkins who headed to the Bi-CAP office with son Jason to pick up a trio of backpacks. Jenkins has two other kids—one at Gene Dillon Elementary and another at Bemidji Middle School—and the backpack giveaway cuts his family's school supply expenses approximately in half.

And Brian Dow, who has three kids at TrekNorth Junior & Senior High School and another about to start at Gene Dillon Elementary, said the Bi-CAP giveaway means he'll spend about $50 to $70 on new gear for school instead of about $200.

"This will save us tons of money," Dow said.

Joe Bowen

Joe Bowen covers education and health for the Bemidji Pioneer.

He is a Minneapolis native and a 2009 graduate of St. John's University. Before moving to Bemidji, Bowen covered education, local politics, crime, and everything in between for the Perham Focus in Perham, Minnesota, and Sun Newspapers in suburban Minneapolis.

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