IRON RANGE — Play golf. Support kids.

The United Way of Northeastern Minnesota launched a “bid where you live” online auction Wednesday, offering golf packages across the region to raise money for its Buddy Backpack program.

The auction will run through 4 p.m. Friday.

The UWNEMN was forced to cancel its annual fundraising Flavor of the North event, set for late April, due to restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic, and that was a huge setback for Buddy Backpack.

Flavor of the North last year raised $47,000 for the program, which supplies nutritious, kid-friendly food kits to food-insecure children each weekend during the school year.

While many sponsors and ticket holders transferred funds directly to the program, totaling more than $14,000, the program is still “very short on funds,” said Elizabeth Kelly, resource development and events director at UWNEMN.

The program has also experienced “a slight increase in enrollment” since the beginning of the pandemic, she said.

More than 900 children are served on the Iron Range, and 185 in Koochiching County.

UWNEMN staff members have been assembling the meal kits, following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, and the kits are being distributed via school busses to children at their homes.

Kelly said the United Way has many certificates donated to Flavor of the North, and decided to create small, online auctions for those packages to help make up for funds lost due to the event’s cancellation.

With social distancing guidelines and stay-at-home orders still in place in the state, many of those packages — such as hotel getaways and activities — can not yet be used.

But after Minnesota Gov. Tim Waltz re-opened golf courses across the state in mid-April, the UWNEMN determined the golf packages would be “a perfect first option” for the auctions, Kelly said.

Packages are available at the following golf courses: Giants Ridge’s Legend and Quarry in Biwabik; Virginia; Hibbing Muni; Mesaba Country Club in Hibbing; The Wilderness at Fortune Bay in Tower; Hoyt Lakes; Eagle Ridge in Coleraine; Pokegama in Grand Rapids; and Ridgeview Country Club in Duluth.

The auction can be accessed on the UWNEMNS’ website under the “events” menu.

Kelly said the United Way plans to create more online auctions to support Buddy Backpack as restrictions are lifted. Emails will be sent out and information will be available on the website.

“We want to make sure we are being safe and keeping all our donors safe,” while continuing to help children, she said.

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