Area school buses are about to take a slight detour to help many children and families this month.
Organizers and volunteers with United Way’s 10th annual "Stuff the Bus" campaign will collect school supplies for children whose families can’t afford them from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. July 18 and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. July 19 at Walmart locations in Fort Smith, Van Buren, Alma, Greenwood, Ozark, Booneville, Paris, Poteau and Sallisaw, said Cortney Christenson, coordinator for the campaign. Participating school children live in United Way’s six-county area, which covers Sebastian, Crawford, Franklin and Logan counties in Arkansas and Sequoyah and LeFlore counties in Oklahoma.
Those wishing to donate school supplies can take these items to the school bus that will be parked in each Walmart parking lot both days, she said. Items needed for at-risk children include pencils, pencil pouch, crayons, colored pencils, 3-ring binders, backpacks, composition notebooks, erasers, bottle and stick glue, highlighters, pocket folders, loose leaf paper, Wet Wipes, Kleenex, Ziplock bags, scissors, ruler, rest mat, red ink pens and hygiene items, Christenson said.
"We’re not sure how many kids it will help this year," she said of the program, which collected more than 38,000 packages of new school supplies for children last year. "We collect the supplies and then turn those over to the school districts, who distribute those supplies to the kids. The district officials know if the students need all of their school supplies or if their family can only pay for half of the school supplies for the year."
A full list of supplies needed can be obtained at the Walmart locations and by calling 782-1311. The list also will be posted at www.unitedwayfortsmith.org, Christenson said.
"It’s a really great program, but we don’t want people to forget something," she said. "Most people tend to always buy school supplies for elementary school children, but this program helps high school students, too. There are a lot of high school kids who can’t afford a backpack or binder."
Christenson said she has witnessed an increase in the number of participating school children each year.
"Every year, we’re getting more and more phone calls about this," she said. "Some people are falling on hard times, and we’ve had some people call who are grandparents. Those grandparents have grandchildren living with them, but they can’t afford all of the school supplies that child needs."
Stuff the Bus also is helping boost the self-esteem of participating students, Christenson said.
"No student wants to go to school on the first day and not have school supplies," she said. "Elementary kids are usually excited to show off their new school supplies to their friends, so we do this program before school starts, so the students can get their supplies. We try to make this program work where the kids won’t stick out, so other kids won’t be asking them, ‘Where are your school supplies?’"