The supplies — everything from composition books to pencils — were knee high by Monday afternoon as volunteers sorted through them.
"It's way better than last year," said Kathy Jones, executive director of the United Way of Hernando County.
Jones was talking about the huge haul of school supplies donated by the public over the weekend during the sixth annual Stuff the Bus campaign, sponsored by the United Way.
School buses were parked at Publix, Walmart and Staples stores so people could contribute.
Nancy Jacobs, a Stuff the Bus volunteer and teacher of intensive reading at Weeki Wachee High School, said it was the best year ever for the drive.
"I was very excited about the Publix bags," said Jacobs.
She explained that some of the Publix supermarkets prepared bags already filled with backpacks, notebooks, rulers and other supplies that shoppers could purchase.
"For $10," Jones said, "the child could have all the supplies needed."
Jacobs said the manager and employees at the Publix store at Glen Lakes laid out a table displaying items teachers need to supply their students.
"A guy said, 'I want to buy the whole table,' " Jacobs said.
And he did.
Another, she said, gave her a $100 bill.
"All anonymously," Jacobs added, "except one guy did let me give him a hug."
Jacobs and other teachers were appreciative of the public's generosity.
Erica Butts, a fifth-grade teacher at Explorer K-8 School, volunteered at the Walmart Supercenter on Cortez Boulevard on Saturday.
The need for classroom supplies is great, Butts said.
"Some of the kids come in with too much, and some come in with nothing," she said.
As suggested by the United Way, teachers in Hernando public and private schools, plus homeschoolers, had been submitting requests for particular needs beyond what the $24 per student allotted by the school district would purchase. Butts mentioned tissues, saying she has boxes of them at four spots around her classroom. She also asked for hand sanitizer and pencils.
"Anything will help," she said.
Like many teachers, Butts said she digs into her own pockets to buy supplies.
"I can't think of any teacher that doesn't spend out of pocket," she said.
Soliciting at the Brooksville Publix store for Stuff the Bus, Donna MacDonald, a first-grade teacher at Eastside Elementary School, confirmed Butts' observation.
"Oh, yes, every year," MacDonald said of making purchases with her own money.
"I run out of crayons," she said.
Hand wipes, white-board markers, journals and folders for homework are among her other needs, she said.
Back in the sorting room Monday, Jones said: "We have probably 10 stacks, 4 feet high, of spirals (notebooks), and we're not halfway through yet. Three banana boxes of scissors, four of markers, five (of) colored pencils."
She said donations of folders were "a little light," but cash donations will help purchase some of those, as well as other supplies.
"We'll go out and buy folders, dry-marker erasers and headphones," she said. "People always give gift cards."
Jones said people donated enough supplies that the United Way will be able to fulfill all of the requests it received from 252 teachers.
Beth Gray can be contacted at [email protected]