(School) Supply And Demand

‘Stuff The Bus’ Kicks Off To Help Needy Children

Posted: August 2, 2014

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP: Laura Toni-Holsinger, Elaine Ward, Jeff Snider and Keith Clarke load a donation Friday morning at the start of the annual Stuff the Bus drive. (Photo by Nikki Fox)

HARRISONBURG — Despite an overcast sky and drizzling rain Friday morning, volunteers Lisa Norris and Kandy Grant eagerly manned the front entrance to the Walmart on Burgess Road, drumming up donations for this year’s Stuff the Bus Campaign.

For Norris, who spent two decades teaching in Harrisonburg schools, braving the rain and the occasional cold shoulder was no big deal.

“I have seen the difference having new school supplies has made in a child’s education,” she said. “When you see a child show up the first day of school with a half-used notebook sit down next to a child with a desk full of sparkly new supplies, it’s heartbreaking. Stuff the Bus really levels the playing field for students and helps provide that emotional support they need to be successful.”

Now in its ninth year, the United Way of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County’s annual weekend campaign raises money and collects school supplies for children. The first day of classes for public schools in the city and county is set for Aug. 19.

Volunteers will be outside local Walmart stores taking donations from shoppers through Sunday. The event coincides with Virginia’s back-to-school tax-free holiday.

During the holiday, sales tax is waived on certain items to give families a break on purchases related to school, which can include clothes, notebooks and pencils.

Last year, Stuff the Bus set a new record, collecting more than $130,700 in supplies and donations.

This year, the agency set a goal of $150,000.

“Last year was a great year,” said Leigh-Anne Lees, marketing director of the United Way. “But the numbers this year continue to go up. At least 70 percent of Harrisonburg City Public School children and 40 percent of students in Rockingham County Schools are on the free or reduced lunch program.”

Stuff the Bus goes beyond the tangibles, said Laura Toni-Holsinger, executive director of the United Way.

“The emphasis is really about giving kids the confidence to be successful,” she said. “Having the same things that their classmates have gives them that confidence.”

The opening morning shift was off to a good start for Norris and Grant. As they greeted families approaching the entrance with school supply lists of their own, shoppers were leaving bottles of glue and backpacks in the collection carts behind them.

“You never underestimate anyone,” said Grant, who taught in Campbell County for 23 years. “They may not make eye contact with you as they walk in, but then they’ll turn around and come out with a cart full of notebook paper to donate. The community is very receptive to this program.”

Donations will be accepted through Sunday at 6 p.m. at six area Walmart locations: Burgess Road in Harrisonburg, Va. 42 south of Harrisonburg, U.S. 211 in Luray, Va. 42 in Woodstock, off U.S. 250 in Staunton and off U.S. 340 in Waynesboro.

Contact Megan Applegate at 574-6286 or mapplegate@dnronline.com

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