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Stuff the Bus helping more students in need

BY GENEVIEVE POSTLETHWAIT gpostlethwait@paducahsun.com

When the United Way of Paducah-McCracken County organized its first Stuff the Bus school supply drive six years ago, volunteers were thrilled to see their one donation location and one bus send a big box full of supplies to each participating Paducah and McCracken County school.

"Now we've seen Stuff the Bus grow to three locations, three buses, and we're all walking out with five boxes," said Farley Elementary Family Resource Coordinator Marianna Romero. With her five boxes full of school supplies, Romero estimates she'll be able to help 20 families in need prepare their children for the 2014-2015 school year at Farley.

Early Monday morning United Way administrators and volunteers, along with family resource coordinators like Romero, gathered in the McNabb Elementary School gym to divvy up supplies collected at both Paducah Wal-Mart locations and Kmart.

"It was amazing to watch," said United Way administrative assistant Monica Dolhun. "They have it down to a science at this point, and everyone was working together to make sure everyone had what they needed. It was really something to see!"

Every item had its place - backpacks, glue sticks, and boxes of Crayola crayons - as anything and everything you might find on a school supply list had a designated spot, even down to college versus wide-ruled paper.

"United Way did a tremendous job getting volunteers to sort the supplies as they came in," Romero said. "By the time we (family resource coordinators)got to the gym, it was just a matter of divvying up everything by school."

The families to be helped by this year's Stuff the Bus drive have yet to be counted, but the supplies donated over the weekend are destined for well over the 375 families helped last year. This year's haul of donated school supplies was the biggest Stuff the Bus organizers have seen.

"Everything adds up," Romero said. "Even buying that quarter box of crayons helps a big deal."

Romero, Farley Elementary's Family Resource Center coordinator for 20 years, has seen firsthand the significant need of families sending their children to school in the area.

"Many of our parents are working full time but still living paycheck to paycheck," Romero said, "and it's a big expense for families to send a child or children to school. Some families that aren't 'needy' by typical standards are still in need of help, and if there's a need, we want to help."

Romero estimates that purchasing the items on a school supply list for just one child costs parents $60 on average, and that's without taking clothing and other necessities into account.

According to United Way Resource Development Manager Betsy Burkeen, family resource coordinators and teachers across the city and county are still identifying students in need of the collected supplies, and any interested parents should get in touch with their school's family resource coordinator for more information. For those interested in donating supplies, Cunningham Dental at 4570 Pecan Drive in Paducah is collecting donations during business hours until Aug. 4.

Contact Genevieve Postlethwait, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8651 or at gpostlethwait@paducahsun.com.

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