Pencils, notebook paper, crayons wet and dry markers and other school supplies are being sought during this weekend's United Way of Hernando County fourth-annual Stuff the Bus campaign.
School buses will be positioned at shopping sites around the county so residents may donate student and teacher needs for the coming school year.
"Teachers absolutely know what they need in their classrooms," said United Way executive director Kathy Jones, "and we can probably fill those needs."
Last year's third campaign resulted in donations of some $5,000 worth of supplies, Jones said. "Consider glue at 10 cents, folders at 5 to 10 cents — it's a lot."
Many stores are featuring school supply discounts right now, she said.
About 420 teachers, from public and private schools and homeschooling parents, have submitted wish lists.
"It's almost tripled from what we started with, so it's really catching on out there," Jones said.
Last year's requests came from 280 teachers, she said, so this year's sign-up list represents "a huge increase."
It's not so much due to the economy, she figures, but that more people are learning about the project. She said even people who do not have children in school want help the cash-strapped educational institutions.
Without programs such as Stuff the Bus, teachers often have to dip into their own pockets for supplies. If they can't, then families have to provide. "(So) we're also helping families," Jones pointed out.
Rick Ahrens, a teacher of vocational agriculture and related sciences at Hernando High, is one of those who has benefited. In the past, he's requested composition books in which students can pen journals — plus pens.
Another enthusiastic beneficiary of Stuff the Bus, Nancy Jacobs, a special needs fourth-grade teacher at Explorer K-8 School, said that without the project she would have to spend well over $150 of her own money each year to provide her students with ear phones so that they can listen and learn via computer-read stories.
A new request this year, said Jones, is for reading books appropriate for first-graders through middle school. "People with spare books at home" can donate them, she suggested.
Paperback dictionaries and thesauruses are also in demand, available for only a dollar apiece at discount stores, Jones said.
Some people do not want to shop, so gift cards are welcome, she added. She and United Way volunteers will shop to answer requests by teachers that remain unfilled after the Stuff the Bus campaign concludes Sunday.
Buses will be staffed by teachers requesting materials, as well as by community volunteers. They will be locked overnight.
Ahrens, the Hernando High teacher, said the program is invaluable. Without it, he said, "I'd have to (purchase supplies) out of my own pocket, or do without. But doing without is not an option to me."
Beth Gray can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.