As Iron Range students slide into their desks for the 2021-2022 school year, brand new school supplies will be on hand for any student in need.

Supplies collected by Women of Steel who work at Iron Range taconite plants.

“We heard a lot of the teachers end up buying supplies for their classrooms,” Jessica Rootes, Women of Steel chairwoman said. “So we wanted to help the teachers and the parents who maybe couldn’t buy the stuff.”

Over the last three months, Women of Steel volunteers collected cash and school items for the school supplies drive.

More than 70 businesses from Grand Rapids to Hoyt Lakes contributed cash or school items to the cause, Rootes said.

“It’s been phenomenal,” Rootes, who works at Hibbing Taconite Co. said. “You walk into these businesses and they’ve been very responsive. They will write a check on the spot or send it to our (union) hall. Even small businesses contributed $100 to $200.

Super One Foods, Eveleth IGA, and Nashwauk Market, accepted cash donations from customers who after contributing, signed “Frog hangars,” at checkouts.

Four United Steelworkers locals, Local 2705 at Hibbing Taconite, Local 6860 at United Taconite, Local 1938 at Minntac Mine and Local 2660 at Keetac, supported the drive

Volunteers at Minntac Mine in Mountain Iron and Keetac in Keewatin held gate drives to solicit cash donations.

“The first day at Minntac $1,600 was donated,” Kori Meskill, Women of Steel coordinator at Minntac said. “The amount of support has been amazing.”

Hibbing Taconite Co. workers donated at Super One or in a lock box at work.

Cleveland-Cliffs, Inc. and United States Steel Corp. contributed cash.

Cash donations totaled more than $12,000, Rootes said.

“It went better than we ever thought it would,” Rootes said. “The need is there.”

“As steelworkers, we don’t have to deal with that,” Meskill said of the need. “But for some parents, it’s buy school supplies or eat dinner.”

This week, Women of Steel volunteers will gather at Local 1938 in Virginia to organize the donations and begin distributing the supplies to Iron Range schools.

School supplies for students of all ages are going to nine school districts, Chisholm, Grand Rapids, Greenway, Hibbing, Mesabi East, Mountain Iron-Buhl, Nashwauk-Keewatin, Rock Ridge, and St. Louis County Schools.

Notebooks, pencils, pens, backpacks, hand sanitizer, masks, personal hygiene products for school nurse offices such as toothbrushes, toothpaste, shampoo, conditioners, feminine hygiene products, and socks and underwear for younger students, are among the supplies going to schools.

“It’s nice to be able to give back,” Meskill said. “It’s something we could do to give back to our community.”

Women of Steel is an arm of United Steelworkers.

Women of Steel has also conducted food drives, toy drives, and raised funds for persons in need.

It’s the fourth year Women of Steel has held a school supply drive on the Iron Range.

“The first and second year we did it, we did it in Hibbing and Chisholm, then we expanded it to Cherry,” Rootes said. “One year we did school supplies and then one year we did hats and mittens.”

This year, Women of Steel decided to expand the drive across the entire Iron Range.

“We want to benefit all the schools because our employees live in all the communities,” Rootes said. “It’s kind of What Women of Steel do.”

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