Monday, December 22, 2014

'Fill the Bus' school supply drive begins this weekend

By CLINTON DICK, Herald Staff Writer | 8/1/2014

The buses aren’t being filled with children; they’re being filled for children.

A coalition of local charity groups is coming together this weekend for the “Fill The Bus” initiative, which runs today through Aug. 10 at Walmart, 2101 S. Princeton St., Ottawa. Residents are asked to donate school supplies and other items for the coming school year, which will be distributed to local students. The effort is being organized by United Way of Franklin County, Walmart, the East Central Kansas Economic Opportunity Corp. and Ottawa Communities In Schools.

Donations may be placed in two bus-shaped cardboard bins located at both entrances of Walmart, Meg Pearson, United Way of Franklin County director, said.

“Every year, there are hundreds of kids in our community that cannot afford simple supplies to go to school,” she said. “And they have other needs too, it is not just school supplies. Every year ECKAN has made it their mission to find school supplies for kiddos in the community.”

Donations left between today and Wednesday are expected to be distributed by ECKAN at the agency’s Resource and Readiness Fair 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Friday at the Don Woodward Community Center, 517 E. Third St., Ottawa. Though volunteers will be available at Walmart to detail needed items, some supplies request for donation include pencils, notebooks (college and wide ruled), two-inch binders, glue bottles and sticks, colored pencils, markers, pink erasers, pocket folders, dry erasers and scientific calculators.

The readiness fair, a partnership between ECKAN and Communities In Schools, focuses on supplying needy children with supplies for school.

“We’ve been doing it the past three years,” Jake Howard, ECKAN human services coordinator, said. “Part of the Resource and Readiness Fair, we accept applications from families that are needing assistance with school supplies for their children that are in grades kindergarten through 12th grade. We are taking applications currently and we take them through July. We will go out and actually purchase school supplies for the children [as well as take donations]. Last year, we had enough donations and everything to provide backpacks and quite a bit of the basic supplies for everyone. We served 224 children in Franklin County. ECKAN does that through all the counties it serves, but that is specific to Franklin County.”

The Resource and Readiness Fair is an invite-only event and features more than just getting supplies to those in need.

“Communities in Schools will be here along with 14 other agencies,” Howard said. “Basically, in addition to getting school supplies, they will get information about different programs and activities for kids. We had Boy Scouts, Hope House ... Ottawa schools had people here about free and reduced cost school lunches last year. It is cool, they come in and go around to the different tables.”

Items donated Thursday through Aug. 10 to the Fill the Bus campaign are expected to go to Ottawa Communities In Schools, which will supply kindergarten through 12th grade students with the donations throughout the school year using site coordinators at every school in the Ottawa school district.

“We have a lot of needs for our kids for hygiene products so we are going to be collecting things like shampoo, conditioner, body spray, body wash, deodorant,” Rachel Smith, Community In Schools executive director, said. “We also have snack bowls in each of our rooms, so they are going to need things like peanut butter crackers, granola bars, things like that. Primarily we see a lot of snack needs at the middle school and the high school. 

“On the list we also have underwear, shoes and socks. For our Weekend Warriors program, we provide four slices of bread, so we are collecting quart size plastic bags and we have volunteers that come in and fill those bags with bread that we send home with the children in USD 290. We are just looking for ways to provide for our kids throughout the year.”

Fill The Bus is an initiative by Walmart and United Way Worldwide, but the campaign is its first year in Franklin County, Pearson said.

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