Stuff the Bus is off to a great start, according to local United Way Director Nichole Mader.

The event started Saturday with volunteers standing outside local the Walmart Supercenter on Chestnut Street and Dillons gathering donations.

Mader said almost all of the adopt-a-backpacks have already been adopted. Only about 20 are left of the 80 that were requested this year, she said. Volunteers already had cartfuls of filled backpacks Saturday. The program is ahead of schedule and Mader is thrilled to see the community come together as it has as it comes out of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We all went through COVID together,” she said. “There’s nobody — whether they lost their job, whether they were able to keep working — everyone went through COVID together and that has made such a stronger community … COVID has really showed us how strong we are when we come together. And you can’t take a lot of positives from COVID — you really can’t — but that is one positive you can take is that it has showed us how strong we are and just how giving and how courageous people can be. So if that’s the one positive I can take from COVID — because it’s taken so much else from us — I will take that positive.”

Mader said there was a general air of excitement on the United Way’s first day of collecting donations for Stuff the Bus.

“We are rocking — super excited,” she said.

Mader hopes it’s a forecast for the road ahead.

“With the positive turnout that we’ve had with supplies and support I really hope this goes forward and shows what kind of first day of school these kids are going to have,” she said. “Because that means that they’re going to have a rocking school year.”

Volunteer Sidney Washington helped gather donations Saturday at the Walmart Supercenter. She is involved in the community in other ways, but this is her first year working with Stuff the Bus. Washington hopes to be able to keep working with the program, the cause of which she believes in.

“I love Junction City and I love the community and this is where I live,” Washington said. My kids are grown. I’ve got a little bit of time and I just want to give back. That’s my main thing — my passion is to help others and so anything I can do that gives back to other people — I think we’ve all had a time in need, so it’s just kind of a thing I enjoy.”

People were generous Saturday, Washington found.

Only a few hours into the first day collecting donations people had already donated about four cartloads of goods and quite a lot of monetary donations as well.

“Everything’s just wonderful,” she said. “The community’s really showing (up) to support the kids.”

United Way is collecting donations not just for USD 475 and other Geary County school children but also for children in Chapman and Enterprise.

Needed supplies include three-ring binders, black dry erase markers, disinfecting wipes, composition notebooks, 24-packs of Crayola crayons, number two and mechanical pencils, gallon and quart-sized freezer bags, glue and glue sticks, hand sanitizer, facial tissues, large pink erasers, plain pocket folders, 3 x 3 sticky notes, pencil pouches and cases, notebook paper, yellow highlighters, headphones and notebooks.

For the adopt-a-backpack program, donors choose a specific child and stuff a backpack with everything on that child’s specific school supply list. Stuffed backpacks for elementary school children tend to run about $25, according to Mader, while backpacks for older students can be much more expensive — in the $75 dollar range, depending on what the students need.

Donations can be dropped off at the United Way office at 139 E. Eighth St. from 8 a.m. until 3 p.m. Monday through Friday. Adopt a backpack donations must be dropped off at the United Way or KS State Bank office by or before July 31.

Other drop off locations for school supplies include Dillons, Geary Community Hospital, State Farm — Karen Jameson, the Dorothy Bramlage Public Library, the Junction City Area Chamber of Commerce, Central National Bank, Airstreams Renewables on Fort Riley, the Walmart Supercenter, Intrust Bank, KS State Bank, Exchange Bank, Sunflower Bank, and Jim Clark at 911 Goldenbelt Blvd. in Junction City. In Chapman and Enterprise, school supplies may be dropped off at DK Sports and Fitness, Astra Bank and the Enterprise Public Library.

According to Mader, the program needs volunteers to come out and help collect donations. It’s a one-hour commitment on a Saturday, she said.

“If there’s people out there reading and (they) want to help volunteer, we would greatly appreciate that,” Mader said.

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