Forced to take its annual backpack drive online this year, CHUM is struggling to meet its goal as the new school year approaches.

The nonprofit, comprised of more than 40 area congregations, is seeking to stuff 1,400 backpacks with school supplies to distribute to students in need. But, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, CHUM is not accepting any physical donations this year, instead asking for online purchases or direct monetary contributions.

"It certainly makes it more difficult on our end," said Scott Van Daele, director of distributive services. "We usually have congregations that organize their own little drives or use some church funds to go to Target or Office Depot to purchase supplies to bring to us. COVID has sort of put a quash on a lot of that."

As of Friday, Van Daele said there had been 352 backpacks purchased through an online order system, and CHUM had received a little more than $2,500 in direct donations that will be used to purchase more.

Ideally, he said the nonprofit would hope to prepare about 700 donations for elementary school students and another 700 for those in middle and high school. The backpacks are filled with supplies including pens and pencils, paper, notebooks, binders, folders, scissors and glue sticks, with some variation for the age groups.

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CHUM is ordering backpacks through Educational Products, Inc., a Texas company, which will send a truckload north later this month. Orders must be finalized by Monday, Aug. 9, in order to allow adequate time for shipping and distribution to students on Aug. 25 and 27.

While it remains unclear just how much time students will actually spend in schools this year, Van Daele said it doesn't lessen the need for educational supplies.

"We aren't really sure what going back to school means," Van Daele said, "but backpacks can be used for a lot of things, whether at home or at school, and there's always going to be a need for pens and pencils, regardless of how they're learning."

Links to purchase a backpack or donate directly to CHUM are available at chumduluth.org.