Tuesday, 04 August 2020 21:26

Richmond County Schools bus stuffed with school supplies

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Richmond County Chamber of Commerce President Emily Tucker wheels out a cart of supplies for teachers during Tuesday's 12th annual Stuff the Bus Campaign. The United Way of Richmond County and Richmond County Schools collected donations from the community for supplies for students in need. Richmond County Chamber of Commerce President Emily Tucker wheels out a cart of supplies for teachers during Tuesday's 12th annual Stuff the Bus Campaign. The United Way of Richmond County and Richmond County Schools collected donations from the community for supplies for students in need. Photos by William R. Toler - Richmond Observer

ROCKINGHAM — When Hurricane Isaias set its sights on North Carolina, United Way of Richmond County Executive Director Michelle Parrish was a little worried about the weather for Tuesday’s Stuff the Bus campaign.

But after consulting with local meteorologist Chris McDonald, she was put at ease and, as predicted, the storm had already moved through, giving way to blue skies and a bright sun.

The hurricane wasn’t the only challenge to this year’s campaign, with the COVID-19 pandemic still ongoing since March.

“Our sponsorship was down this year,” she said. “I’m not going to say it was because of (the pandemic) — some of it may have been — but we were kind of pushed for time, too, trying to get everything done in a crunch.”

Parrish said organizers weren’t sure Stuff the Bus, now in its 12th year, was even going to happen due to Gov. Roy Cooper’s executive orders related to the pandemic.

“We were very fortunate that we were able to do it, although the situation and the climate is different this year,” she said. “The students, hopefully, will be back in school and will still need the supplies.”

The Richmond County Board of Education voted last month to have elementary school students in the classroom, socially distanced, while middle and high school students will learn remotely. Families of the younger students also have the option to learn remotely.

The way the Stuff the Bus campaign works, Parrish explained, is individual donors and local corporations sponsor the bus and UWRC and Richmond County Schools “take every penny” to purchase supplies. Some people and companies also donate supplies directly, she added.

Sponsors’ names are plastered on the side of the bus, which sits outside of Walmart.

This year’s sponsors include: American Legion Post 147, Burlington Industries, the City of Rockingham, Direct Pack, Enviva, FirstHealth EMS-Richmond, Hayden Construction, Hughes Welding and Crane Services, Kidz Construction Day Care, Long’s Pool Center, Murphy Electric, Piedmont Natural Gas, Rex’s Floor Covering, Richmond Community Support Center, the Richmond County Chamber of Commerce, Riverstreet Network, Southern Builders, VFW Post 4203, von Drehle, Vulcan Materials Company, and N.C. House candidates Rep. Scott Brewer and Ben Moss.

Simply Chic Boutique, Our Southern Roots, Biscuitville and Walmart also provided in-kind gifts.

Members of the Chamber were out helping load the bus and buying snacks and supplies for teachers.

Chamber President Emily Tucker said the organization held a welcome mixer for new teachers last year, but wasn’t able to do so this summer because of the social distancing and mass gathering restrictions related to the pandemic.

She said Chamber members donated door prizes, gift cards and “swag bags” that will be given to those coming to teach in Richmond County.

Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Dr. Julian Carter said Tuesday evening that the district has hired more than 40 teachers and other support staff this year and that the average turnover is 40-50 each year.

Also helping at the site were Richmond County Schools Central Office staff, and volunteers from Planet Fitness, Richmond County Partnership for Children, Girl Scouts, Richmond Senior High School, Vulcan Materials and von Drehle.

In years past, students from the Beta Club and National Honor Society have come out to help load the bus, but they weren’t able to this year, Parrish said, later adding her thanks to all the businesses, organizations and individuals who contributed to this year’s effort.

The most-needed items this year were: No. 2 wooden pencils, crayons, dry-erase markers, glue sticks, paper, notebooks, facial tissue, hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes.

Most of those items were donated, in addition to a few backpacks.

Parrish said they received more hand sanitizer this year than in years past.

However, Parrish said the wipes were nowhere to be found due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Jean Fletcher, an Ellerbe town commissioner who works at Walmart, said the wipes sell out within minutes of hitting the floor.

“There’s a lot of stuff on that bus,” Parrish said minutes before it pulled away. “We’ve had great community support today through people just walking up and donating (items or money) … it’s a good turnout for supplies.”

She said this year’s haul would “rank up with the top of the top” despite the challenges.

“We should be, hopefully, able to accommodate students in need,” she said.

Once collected, the supplies will be divvied up among the county’s schools and dispersed by the guidance counselors and social workers.

“They do a great job of making sure that students have what they need so they have a great start to the school year — because that’s ultimately what it’s about. “Although our school year won’t be a normal start, hopefully it will become more normal.”