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The Grab Bag Program will help needy middle and high school students and promote aerial applicators and their mission as well. (Submitted photo)

Aerial applicators, DECA team up to help needy students

GRAND FORKS, N.D. — The Tristate Aerial Applicators were looking for a way to increase traffic at exhibitors' booths during the group's recent annual convention in Grand Forks, N.D.

The group found it in the Grab Bag Program, which will help needy middle and high school students and promote aerial applicators and their mission, too.

"It's working out well so far," said David Gust, an aerial applicator involved with the project.

The Tristate Aerial Applicators — which consists of aerial applicators, a group once known as crop dusters, in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota — teamed up with the Red River High School DECA chapter in Grand Forks to create a Grab Bag Program.

Through the program, social workers will receive boxes with items including snacks, school supplies and personal hygiene products. Students in need can visit with their school social workers to get a bag and fill it with the items they need.

The new Grand Forks program is similar to backpack programs that send such items home with students at the elementary school level.

DECA is a co-curricular organization that provides high school students an opportunity to develop leadership skills and prepare for future careers.

The Red River DECA chapter has 84 students. They'll use their business skills to distribute items, promote fundraising events, handle finances and do marketing research.

The first item drive will begin in March; the date hasn't been determined yet. A number of fundraising activities are planned, including a ping pong tournament on March 20.

Donations in any form will be accepted. Donated items can be dropped off at the school or send to Maggie Uetz, Red River DECA advisor.

Bags will be donated by local businesses and be general in nature to avoid drawing attention to the student in need.

A silent auction held during the Aerial Applicators convention raised $3,100 to launch the program. The money will be used to buy storage for social workers, said Tracy Jentz, communications coordinator for Grand Forks Public Schools.

The auction drew convention-goers to the exhibitors' booth, meeting the original goal, Gust said.

The program also will help DECA students and others learn more about aerial applicators and what they do, he said.

The Grand Forks community has been good to the Tristate Aerial Applicators, and gearing the Grab Bag Program to Grand Forks recognizes that, he said.

It's too soon to predict whether the program will be extended in the future to other communities where the organization holds its annual convention, he said.