Save the date: The annual "Stuff the Bus" drive to ensure every child in Wayne County Public Schools has essential school supplies will be held on Wednesday, Aug. 8.
The bright yellow school bus will pull into the News-Argus parking lot on Berkeley Boulevard the afternoon before, serving as a visible reminder of the event.
The community is invited to take advantage of back-to-school sales and bargains, picking up items that would be on school supply lists for students of all ages.
The fundraiser for Communities Supporting Schools in Wayne County was launched in 2000, and the need is just as prevalent today, said Selena Bennett, executive director.
For some families, the start of a new school year can be stressful as they struggle to afford everything their child needs -- from basic pencils and paper to big ticket items like backpacks and calculators.
She has already started getting phone calls, she said, from those wanting to know more about the event, to others needing donations themselves.
Everything received from the drive is distributed as equally as possible among the public schools, Bennett said.
"We take these supplies, and we divide them among all the Wayne County Public Schools -- every pencil and piece of notebook paper stays in Wayne County," she said. "I do that so that school social workers and school counselors can count on having something for those students they have identified (in need). By doing it that way, I know that every school gets something, and then social workers and counselors have what they need."
The suggested list of items includes, but is not limited to, pens, pencils, markers, crayons and mechanical pencils, on up to boxes of tissues and hand sanitizer.
"We can always use thumb drives, not just your traditional pencils, crayons and paper," Bennett said. "The marble composition books are always in high demand. And loose-leaf paper, we never get enough loose-leaf notebook paper.
"For people that want to buy backpacks, keep in mind that we have young children that need small backpacks, as well as middle and high schoolers that need larger backpacks."
The annual event was once coordinated around the tax-free weekend, but the state doesn't do that anymore, she said.
Fortunately, Stuff the Bus has been a visible reminder of the ongoing needs of schools, and evokes a wonderful response from this community, Bennett said.
"The public is invited to drop off donations -- it's the best parking space on Berkeley Boulevard," she said. "The business will be stuffed on that Wednesday, but the effort will be ongoing because school supplies are needed throughout the year."
Bennett said she has loyal residents and organizations that support the drive each year who have been gearing up for the upcoming fundraiser.
"This is a signature event, when people see what the News-Argus is doing and they see the bus, then I have organizations and churches and individuals that will call me and ask how they can be part of this event if they don't have everything ready," she said. "This is just the kickoff."
Donations are a big part of the drive, whether in school supply form or financial support.
"We also accept monetary donations if they don't have time to shop," Bennett said. "Some will give us money and say, 'Use it wherever you need.' So what I do is put it into a 'student support fund' so that during the year, if I run out of book bags, I have got that money to go out and get what they need or things that may not be on the list."
At this year's event, the CSS board will also be participating. Bennett said they are very excited to serve as volunteers accepting donations at the Stuff the Bus event.
She said she will also make herself available to speak to any club or organization about CSS and its ongoing projects, like the school supply drive.
"It's a tremendous effort, that's all I can say," Bennett said. "The community has always responded so well, and this kind of signals it's back-to-school time when they see the big school bus at the News-Argus.
"It's a great partnership between the News-Argus and other businesses and civic clubs because they recognize the need and they want to give it to a place where they're sure it's going to go where it's supposed to."
She also praised the collaborative partnerships that have helped make the annual summer fundraiser a success for nearly 18 years.
"We know this does not fix every situation, but it's a start," Bennett said, adding, "There are organizations that think, 'I would like to wait and do something, say, at Thanksgiving or Christmas.'
"That's fine because we have needs all year, not just at the beginning of the school year."