LUMBERTON — Communities in Schools of Robeson County’s annual Stuff the Bus school supplies drive isn’t just about getting — it’s about giving.
According to BreAnna Branch, who is a site coordinator for the organization at Townsend Middle School, everyone who donated during the week-long campaign, which wrapped up Saturday, went out of their way to help students in need.
“It shows there are people who are willing to go above and beyond,” Branch said.
Throughout the week, donors dropped off pencils, folders, pens, notebooks, paper, glue, scissors, crayons and other school supplies at The Robesonian, which co-sponsored the 11th annual drive. Supplies were also collected at Walmart, State Employees Credit Union and Southeastern Regional Medical Center. Walmart also plans to donate school supplies left over after the end-of-summer back-to-school rush, Branch said.
The school supplies will benefit about 1,500 students at 18 schools throughout the county.
Abe Marshall, who is on the Communities in Schools board, says in his 10 years working on the Stuff the Bus campaign, other school supply giveaways have cropped up in the county, giving people more avenues to give and receive basic items.
Unlike other events, items collected during Stuff the Bus are distributed by schools throughout the year.
“We know the students who are in need,” Branch said. “… They may get supplies in the summer but come December they may not have much left. We fill that gap throughout the year.”
Debbie Hunt, who donated bags of pencils, crayons and paper on Saturday, has seen that need firsthand. Hunt worked with the Public Schools of Robeson County for 25 years, including at a school that received Stuff the Bus items.
With school supplies taken care of, families on fixed incomes can worry about other expenses, Hunt said.
“It will make a huge difference,” Hunt said.
Those who donated to the campaign were also eligible to enter daily raffles and win six grand prizes valued at $50 each. Walmart, Biggs Park Mall, Lumberton Racquet and Swim Club and Southeastern Lifestyle fitness center donated the prizes.
On Saturday, donors enjoyed snacks and drinks in front of The Robesonian, and a chance to snap a photo with the Chick-Fil-A cow. The restaurant chain is supporting several concurrent school supplies drives in the county.
By Saturday afternoon, Communities in Schools had accumulated dozens of boxes of supplies at its office and in a storage unit courtesy of Storage Solutions, as well as monetary donations. Branch said the organization won’t know for a few days exactly how much was collected — each box has to be inspected and its contents split up for distribution to participating schools.
Communities in Schools of Robeson County was founded in 1992 through a partnership with the Public Schools of Robeson County. The organization supports more than 5,000 students across the school district.
During the 2014-2015 school years, 99 percent of those students were promoted to the next grade level, 96 percent improved their grades, and 96 percent improved behavior, according to Communities in Schools.
“We try to do whatever we can to remove the barriers, the obstacles to learning,” said Branch, who also works on girls empowerment, anti-bullying and nutrition programs for Communities in Schools.
In addition to its Stuff the Bus campaign, Communities in Schools of Robeson County provides tutoring, mentoring, counseling and health services to students as well as operates Communities in Schools Academy in Pembroke. Communities in Schools’ Bak Pak Pals program sends 400 students home with bags of food each weekend.
For information about Communities in Schools of Robeson County, visit robeson.communitiesinschools.org.
Sarah Willets can be reached at 910-816-1974 or on Twitter @Sarah_Willets.