Bright yellow buses were parked at Walmart stores throughout the Fort Smith area on Friday and Saturday (July 26-27) for United Way of Fort Smith Area's ninth annual "Stuff the Bus" school supply drive. The event, which collects supplies for area children in need, helps ease the burden for hundreds of families as they gear up for going back to school in August.
Thousands of supplies poured into the buses parked at 10 area Walmart stpres, including stores in Alma, Booneville, Fort Smith, Greenwood, Ozark, Poteau, Sallisaw and Van Buren. Despite getting off to a rainy start, the event kept volunteers busy sorting bags and organizing donations.
Donated items included basic supplies such as pens, pencils and paper, as well as notebooks, binders, crayons, scissors and glue. Stacks of three-ring binders, Kindergarten mats and tissue boxes could also be found inside each of the buses.
The drive is held each year in conjunction with Walmart's big back to school sale. In 2012, Stuff the Bus brought in more than 44,000 packages of supplies.
"Stuff the Bus is so important to the families in our six-county area," said Mitzy Little, United Way Resource Development/Marketing Director. "For some families, even the most basic school supplies are an expense they cannot afford. We don't want any child returning to school on that first day without a backpack or school supplies. We want to equip every child with the supplies they need to have a successful school year."
Following the event each year, the supplies are counted and delivered to districts throughout United Way's service area, where they are distributed to children in need.
The success of the Stuff the Bus is due in great part to the donors who come out to support the event year after year. Many shoppers, even those who do not have school-age children, make their way to Walmart this time each year to contribute to the drive.
At the Kelley Highway location in Fort Smith, one generous donor dropped off nearly $300 of school supplies, which included more than 100 boxes of crayons and several dozen packages of pens and paper.
Some supporters who didn't have the time to stop and shop for items, instead donated money as they entered or exited the store. Monies collected were used by United Way to purchase additional supplies which were factored into each locations' overall total.
Volunteers are also fundamental to the overall success of "Stuff the Bus." More than 600 individuals gave of their time to work shifts at the various locations this year. Many counted and sorted supplies, while others handed out flyers and shared information with customers about the event.
"The United Way staff would like to thank all of the volunteers," said Little. "This event would not be possible without them. "
Several area businesses and organizations got a jumpstart on collecting by hosting supply drives in the weeks prior to the event. Collections boxes were located at Beall Barclay, Citizens Bank and Trust, Golden Living, Klein Tools, Mercy, OG&E, USA Truck and Wingfoot.
Stuff the Bus collections ended at 1 p.m. on Saturday.