The school bus had been parked in front of the Maryville WalMart for only 10 minutes Tuesday, brought in for a promotional shot for this story, when someone walked up to donate supplies. The annual Stuff the Bus drive doesn’t officially start until Saturday.
There were smiles all-around at the early donation. To these members of the Blount County Education Foundation, pencils equal academic success.
Board member David Jordan said Stuff the Bus is enjoyable, fun and is something that needs to be done each year, but the reason for it goes beyond the fun. “It is vital for the kids that they have what they need to enhance their educational experience.”
The foundation is holding its annual Stuff the Bus school supply drive for Blount County Schools from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 6, at the Wal-Mart locations in both Alcoa and Maryville.
Shoppers can “stuff the bus” by making cash or check donations directly to the foundation to purchase school supplies, or they can choose to purchase needed items themselves while shopping and drop it in the bus.
Linda Whitehead, president of the board of directors, stressed the importance of giving children a good education so they can have a strong start in life. “We encourage the community to give to make sure students have what they need to get a good education,” she said.
Some of the requested supplies by teachers include: Antibacterial wipes, backpacks (mesh or clear), binders, colored pencils or markers, crayons, dry erase supplies, erasers, folders, hand sanitizer, tissues and notebook paper.
Volunteers and board members take the donated supplies to Eagleton Middle School where there is a portable dedicated to school supplies. The supplies are organized and are distributed to the schools for children who need them.
Susan Stout, board vice president, said this year the board is re-evaluating the school supply process as far as getting supplies to schools. “We have been evaluating it to make it a more efficient process,” she said.
Stout said the day of Stuff the Bus is always rewarding, particularly the stories she hears from those who have been helped by the foundation in the past and return the favor by donating supplies.
“There is always a story at every store, whether it’s a mom who had to ask for supplies and is now in a position to give back or some don’t even have kids in system but wants to give a monetary donation,” she said. “People who don’t really have a lot to give will come out of the store with a donation. They make the sacrifice to give back. You have people who have money, people who don’t have money and people who don’t even have kids in the system all coming together to give.”
Stout said that coming together is what it takes. “We are grateful for the efforts of the BCEF board members and their families, Mr. Britt, the Blount County Schools employees and students, as well as WalMart and Pokeys for their contributions,” said Stout.
Jordan said Saturday will probably be a hot day for working outside collecting donations, but the volunteers have come to expect the high temperatures. “It’s hot, but it’s August,” he said. “It’s always fun to talk to people and let them know what we’re doing.”
Whitehead, whose son Colt attends fifth grade at Fairview Elementary School, said she enjoys seeing teachers and students participate in Stuff the Bus. “It is fulfilling to be able to help,” she said.
Stout said Stuff the Bus makes for a long day, but it is always worth it. “At the end of the day, you’re hot and sweaty and tired, but it is all worth it,” she said. “For students who volunteer for community service, it is a good place for them to start giving back. It’s a good place for them to get involved in their community.”
Board member Kristin Pryor said this is her second year on the board. She has a daughter, Gracie Pryor, who is starting kindergarten at Montvale Elementary, and a son, Jordan Chaney, who attended Maryville High School. Watching the efforts of the Maryville City Schools Foundation motivated her to get involved with the county foundation. “I saw what their foundation did and saw that the county has a great organization that directly benefits the kids,” she said.
Debbie Sudhoff said she enjoys Stuff the Bus. “Stuff the Bus is great. You see how excited the teachers are to see us,” she said.
Carl Van Hoozier with Vulcan Materials said the board always has a good time collecting supplies. “We enjoy the opportunity to help out. It’s a good team effort to get together and help Blount County school children,” he said.
This is Rob Morris’ first year on the board and his first time helping with Stuff the Bus. “I think it’s a great opportunity to give back to the community and help students hopefully be prepared for the opportunities ahead of them,” he said.
Brad Long with Huffman Bus Service and a Blount County School Board member, brought a bus to the Maryville WalMart for promotional photos to be taken with the board members on Tuesday.
Long said Stuff the Bus is important to the schools. “We have a lot of disadvantaged students and a lot of poverty Blount County people don’t know about,” he said. “This will help a lot of kids who can not afford school supplies.”
Long said he appreciates what the foundation does by collecting school supplies. “It is a good resource for teachers and students to have,” he said.
Blount County Schools Director Rob Britt said the school system is grateful to the Blount County Education Foundation for sponsoring this event and for all the volunteers who come out and give freely of their time. “We certainly are most appreciative of our community for their support in providing the essentials of school supplies that go directly to our students who wouldn’t probably have those supplies. We’re very grateful to our community for helping us so all children have the essential supplies they need to be successful in school.”
Since 1990, the BCEF has delivered needed educational tools to teachers and students in all Blount County Schools. While a separate entity from the school system, the BCEF works closely with teachers, principals and central office administration to understand and address the most pressing, unmet needs.
For more information about Stuff the Bus, contact the BCEF at 865-980-1169, or visit the BCEF online at www.blountcountyeducationfoundation.org.