As summer is in full swing, the United Way of Lee County is working to prepare families for the upcoming school year.
The organization's annual school supply drive, Stuff the Bus, will kick off Tuesday, and will aim to provide supplies to about 700 kids this year through donations from the community.
Families who will receive supplies for children are those whose applications were accepted by United Way and who find themselves unable to afford new supplies each year.
"Sometimes, they're low-income families, and we get a lot of grandparents who are on fixed incomes and weren't really planning ... to be paying for school supplies because maybe they didn't know they'd be raising children," said Chandler Williams, community initiatives director for United Way. "There are a lot of families with multiple children, too. One thing I realized over the years I've done (the drive) is just how quickly the school supplies add up. So, when you're getting them for several children, it can be pretty expensive."
All children receiving supplies are in grades kindergarten through 12 and attend either Auburn City Schools, Opelika City Schools or Lee County Schools.
Last year, 713 children received supplies through the drive — more than 200 more than in 2017. So far, Williams has received applications for more than 500 children, and the application deadline is Tuesday.
"We feel like we should be able to meet about 700 if we get supplies like we did last year, and if there's a need for that many," she said.
Families can apply to receive supplies by calling or emailing Williams or stopping by the United Way office on Executive Park Drive in Auburn for an application. Williams can be reached at 745-5540 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Community members who choose to donate supplies can do so by dropping them off at any of the participating drop-off locations, including the United Way Office.
Drop-off locations include 360 Realty, APR, Auburn Alumni Center, Auburn Chamber of Commerce, Auburn Marriott Opelika Hotel at Grand National, Auburn Therapy and Learning Center, Auburn Vet School – Greene Hall, Bancorp South – E. Glenn Ave. Branch, Center State Bank – East University Branch, City of Auburn Developmental Services, Dean and Barrett Attorneys at Law, The Harris Center, Huff Smith Law, Muncie and Mattson Attorneys at Law, National Bank of Commerce, Opelika Chamber of Commerce, Opelika Sportsplex, Realty South, River Bank and Trust (Auburn and Opelika), and Trindgroup.
United Way will also have volunteers stationed at the Auburn Walmart on Aug. 13 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. to receive donations.
Volunteers are needed for this day, and those interested can email Williams.
Those who do most of their shopping online can also donate through the Stuff the Bus Amazon wish list. By ordering items on the online wish list, donations can be mailed directly to the United Way office.
Find the wish list by visiting amazon.com/hz/wishlist/ls/2WZP90KHS4TRX/ref=hz_ls_biz_ex.
Those shopping can buy things to donate such as three-ring binders, backpacks, colored pencils, composition notebooks, dividers, dry erase markers, erasers, glue sticks, hand sanitizer, highlighters, index cards, ink pens, Kleenex, liquid soap, markers, notebook paper, paper towels, pencils, pencil pouches, rulers, scissors, santitizing wipes and Ziploc bags.
Williams said the drive would not be able to accommodate the growing needs in the area were it not for a generous community.
"We're really grateful that the public and Lee County have been so generous over the years," she said. "We have been lucky enough to receive enough supplies to grow Stuff the Bus each year, and we hope we'll be able to provide school supplies for all the children in Lee County who need them."
She said United Way works closely with teachers and counselors to identify students who may need new supplies and to make sure their needs are met.
"We know that children who are ready for school and aren't nervous are going to have an easier time the first day of school," Williams said, adding that when children don't have the school supplies they need they can feel behind. "Our goal is to have children prepared and ready to learn and not have to worry about if they have a used book-bag or don't have what's on the teacher's list. They're not going to be embarrassed or feel like they're not ready."
She added that seeing children and parents pick up the donated supplies on distribution day is priceless.
"A lot of them have always had hand-me-down backpacks from older siblings, so it's fun to see them get a new backpack and new supplies. It just gets them ready for school," Barrett said. "I think it just makes them excited, and it's a relief to the parents."