With school right around the corner, supplies by the truckload will be sold at Walmart this weekend for the fifth annual Stuff the Bus event.
Many of those supplies will be purchased by community-minded residents who do not have children in school. Coinciding with the Tennessee tax-free weekend when certain school supplies may be purchased without paying sales tax, the collection of supplies begins Friday and runs through Sunday. Stuff the Bus, a project of the Loudon County Education Foundation, was initiated in 2008 by Scott Owen, Walmart co-manager and Wayne Miller, former superintendent with Lenoir City Schools.
"We were on the United Way board together, and we were talking about how the education foundation was struggling, with the economy," Owen said. "I had been to other stores where they had done this. Wayne got the LCEF behind it, and it grew and grew. Stuff the Bus is a way our customers can get involved by buying products and not pay taxes."
Tammy Lane, Walmart community coordinator, said the local store has been successful with the fundraiser. Since its inception, the project has raised an average of $5,000 per year in school supplies for the Lenoir City and Loudon County school systems.
"I think the thing we've done different than other stores is that we got the leaders of the community involved," she said. "Our school superintendents get out and solicit outside support."
Michele Lewis, LCEF director, said volunteers are lined up to help out throughout the weekend.
"Our community support for this event is fabulous," Lewis said.
"The volunteers will take two-hour shifts, and we will have a minimum of four people working per shift," she said. "The supplies will be taken to the (Loudon County) Technology Center for sorting, and then they will go to the family resource centers for distribution to the teachers and administrators."
Stuff the Bus is not the only charitable effort in which the Walmart store is involved. Store volunteers packed and delivered 900 backpacks filled with supplies that were delivered to the Good Samaritan Center and are being distributed now. The supplies provided to LCEF will be available to teachers to supplement what students receive later in the year.
Owen pointed out that before Stuff the Bus, teachers often spent personal money to provide supplies to low-income students.
Lane said community volunteers are especially important on the tax-free weekend, a time when all Walmart hands are required in the store itself. "We get a lot of help and more for that weekend because we are so busy," Lane said.
Last year, Stuff the Bus raised more than $7,000 worth of school supplies, which provided $3,500-plus for each school system. In the past two years, Walmart has increased the amount of school supplies donated by making pre-packaged items in different price ranges. Contributors may pick up a pre-packaged group of supplies without having to figure out what the schools need or what to donate.
This year, volunteers with the Boys & Girls Club of Loudon County will be at the store Saturday selling barbecue sandwiches. Half the money raised will be used to purchase school supplies, with the remainder going to support activities at the Boys & Girls Club.