A new school year begins Tuesday for local students, but for some students this time of year creates apprehension not just about having a new teacher or new schedule.
Some students’ families are unable to afford the supplies they will need to attend classes.
That is why United Way of Greater Augusta began Stuff the Bus 10 years ago.
Donations will be collected from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday at both Waynesboro and Staunton Walmarts.
Linda Green of Crimora donated pencils, folders, erasers and rulers at the Walmart in Waynesboro Friday morning. She said she donates items every year.
“There’s a lot of people that cannot afford to send their children to school,” said Green, who has two adult children, six grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
“Everybody should [stuff the bus],” Green said.
Volunteers from Waynesboro, Staunton and Augusta County took shifts at both Walmarts throughout each day Friday, Saturday and Sunday collecting donated items as customers exited the stores.
“We’ve been doing very well this year,” said Brenda Vann, a United Way volunteer.
Vann, who lives in Fishersville and owns Simple Elegance Catering, said she had been at the Walmart in Waynesboro since 9 a.m. on Friday, when this year’s event began.
Common donations Friday morning were crayons, pencils and composition notebooks, according to Vann.
“Pencils are the no. 1 priority for most schools, as well as loose-leaf paper,” Vann said.
Annie Hulen was volunteering Friday morning after 11 a.m. on behalf of Waynesboro Kiwanis Club.
“I think it’s a great event for the children in the county and for the generosity that everyone who gives in this community,” said Hulen, who lives in Waynesboro.
Hulen agreed with Vann that the event was going well so far Friday.
John Martin is a bus driver for Waynesboro Public Schools and night custodian at Kate Collins Middle School. He said that the city’s bus drivers recently had their annual meeting during which they provide their own donations for Stuff the Bus.
“We all work for it — because we see it work [locally],” said Martin of Stuff the Bus.
He said that he sees the need for Stuff the Bus every day he works in the school system.
“I guess the most important thing is it stays right here in the community,” Martin said of the donations raised during the weekend.
He added that a lot of volunteers throughout the weekend are from Waynesboro Public Schools like himself.
“It’ll hopefully be pretty full by the time Sunday night rolls around,” said United Way Director of Community Impact Nadina Pupic of the UPS truck parked beside the Walmart in Waynesboro on Friday morning in which all donations at that store this weekend would be organized and stored.
Pupic said that once filled on Sunday evening, UPS would take the trailer to a sorting facility, which this year will be at the Wilson campus in Fishersville thanks to Augusta County Public Schools.
Waynesboro and Staunton City Schools will receive donations by Tuesday, according to Pupic.
“We have a pretty quick turnaround,” she said.
And Augusta County schools will receive their share of donations on Wednesday.
Schools receive donations depending on the number of students on free and reduced lunch. Pupic said that 7,600 students in 29 local schools are on the program.
“So these are the numbers we’re trying to target,” she said.
Local schools with a higher number of students in the program will receive more donated items.
In each school this week, guidance counselors will distribute items as parents reach out and express their child’s needs for the new school year.
Pupic said that each box in the trailer is labeled for the school the items are intended for and so as to identify the items inside.
“It’s taken a few years for us to get [this organized],” Pupic said of the nearly 10 years that United Way has organized Stuff the Bus at local Walmarts. “It has become very efficient over the years.”
In the first years of the annual event, always held during Virginia’s tax-free weekend, Pupic said the donated items were literally stuffed into school buses, but United Way soon realized the logistical challenge that buses present, so then trailers were brought in for storage and transportation of the donated items.
Pupic said United Way has always partnered with local Walmarts, the Salvation Army, UPS and McKee Foods Co. of Stuarts Draft for Stuff the Bus. McKee provides the boxes in which the items are collected, organized and transported.
Last year, Stuff the Bus collected $56,000 worth of school supplies between the Waynesboro and Staunton Walmarts.
Pupic said the hope this year was to raise at least between $10,000 and $12,000 by 6 p.m. Friday, and average that amount again on Saturday and Sunday so as to raise more in 2019 than last year.