As Minnesota schools gear up to reopen this fall, fundraisers to help provide supplies to low-income K-12 students are also back after being scaled down or canceled last year during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Greater Twin Cities United Way and the Salvation Army — among the largest social services nonprofits in Minnesota — are rallying volunteers and donors this month to collect supplies for a growing number of families in need.

The Salvation Army in the Twin Cities is collecting new backpacks and school supplies, aiming to give 5,000 backpacks to kids this month. Friday is the final day for the drive.

On Thursday, the United Way will hold its biggest in-person fundraiser of the year at Allianz Field in St. Paul, where volunteers will distribute 50,000 backpacks filled with notebooks and other supplies to nonprofits and schools for metro area families.

"Unfortunately, COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted people who were already marginalized in our community, people living in poverty and people of color, and they continue to feel the impact of that," United Way CEO John Wilgers said. "And that trickles down to really everything, school supplies included."

The pandemic has forced nonprofits to rework volunteering efforts, scaling back in-person events or moving them online to block the spread of the coronavirus.

In Roseville, the Salvation Army canceled its annual school supply drive in 2020 because of the pandemic. This year, the organization is collecting new school supplies and backpacks at all Twin Cities Hy-Vee stores, as well as Blue Cross Blue Shield offices at the Yorkdale Shoppes in Edina and the Crossroads of Roseville. For details or to donate, go to

"The need is just that much greater this year," said Dan Furry, spokesman for the Salvation Army Northern Division, which includes Minnesota and North Dakota.

School supply drives take place each year throughout Minnesota — from St. Cloud to Grand Rapids — but those of the Salvation Army and Twin Cities United Way are among the largest.

Last year, United Way retooled its annual Action Day into a completely virtual event for the first time in 13 years. Instead of thousands of volunteers gathering in a sports stadium, they stayed home and filled about 3,000 backpacks with notebooks, crayons and other supplies. The nonprofit used donations to buy the rest of the backpacks with supplies.

Next week, the United Way will do a hybrid event, welcoming 900 volunteers to Allianz Field and celebrating online that day with volunteers who will assemble kits at home. For details or to donate, go to

United Way aims to distribute 10,000 more backpacks, or 25% more, than it did in 2020. That's still short of the its pre-pandemic goal of 100,000 backpacks, which is what officials say is required to reach all needy metro students.

The organization held in-person mini-volunteer events for the first time this year at 13 companies. While volunteer events will grow as the virus threat subsides, Wilgers said both at-home volunteering and smaller company sites are likely here to stay, giving volunteers extra options to pitch in.

"I think it will be permanent," he said.

Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141