Building a solid education foundation couldn't be done without the community's help.
The Loudon County Education Foundation will be holding its fifth annual Stuff the Bus community project this weekend at Lenoir City Walmart in an effort to provide children in need with supplies to kick off the new school year.
Volunteers, including Loudon and Lenoir City teachers and administrators, will be available 10 a.m.-6 p.m. throughout the tax-free weekend to collect donations. Supply lists will be available to make the right individual selections for the classroom, but Walmart will also provide prepackaged basic supplies for quick, one-stop shopping to help local children.
"That way a shopper can pick up that clear plastic bag and make that as their donation. They don't have to go in and individually select items," Susan Fox, Lenoir City Schools Family Resource Center director, said, adding the prepackaged supplies boosted turnout last year.
"We collected thousands of individual student supplies last year during the three-day weekend. It was phenomenal the support," she said.
Loudon County Education Foundation Executive Director Michele Lewis believes supporting the local school systems will go a long way.
"Our purpose is to support the schools however they need it," Lewis said. "Supplies are an expensive commodity and not necessarily built into the school budget. This is something the community can get behind.
"The prepackaged supplies from Walmart I think are priced at $10," she said. "So a $10 donation from a household doesn't take a bite out of your budget, but when you are supplying that many school supplies for kids who don't have them it can be a huge cost for the schools."
This year's festivities will include a live radio remote from local radio station WLIL-AM 730 from 10 a.m.-noon Saturday. Both school superintendents will be on site 2-4 p.m. Friday.
"It's a great opportunity for the teachers to be out in the community. You know how wonderful it is when you run into a teacher," Lewis said. "We need volunteers and they're absolutely willing to get out there in that heat and talk to people and it's there community too. They want to be as much a face at this event as anyone."
Planning the campaign on the tax-free weekend wasn't a coincidence. Lewis said the opportunity gives donors the best bang for their buck.
"We think a lot of parents will be out there shopping for school supplies anyway. This way they can purchase school supplies and do it as inexpensively as possible for the donor," Lewis said.
From Walmart, the supplies will be hauled away by bus to the LCEF's tech center, where donations will be divided between the two schools.
"Without question," the Stuff the Bus campaign helps area students, Fox said.
"It makes a significant impact on our school system. It enables us to give students and teachers supplies for at least the first semester if not the first five months of school that we typically don't have to go back and try to seek support in the community or purchase those to give to the teachers," she said.
On average, Fox said Lenoir City Schools receives 300 requests for supply needs in a school year.
Kim McGimsey, Loudon County instructional support supervisor, said 40 percent or more of students are on free and reduced-priced meals in every Loudon County school. That classification is considered economically disadvantaged.
"It takes the pressure off parents, especially with jobs the way they are and unemployment what it is at this time. It's a good way for the community to give back and to help our schools," McGimsey said.
And she believes teachers appreciate the program.
"If a student needs it and the school doesn't have it, being a teacher I know a lot of times I bought it to make sure that the kids have what they need," she said. "If they need to buy it themselves they will make sure they have the crayons."
Even though Stuff the Bus will be held this weekend, LCEF always welcomes school supplies and cash donations.
"You can bring it to the education foundation and we take care of it. If you're interested in making (a) cash donation you can designate it for school supplies and we'll take care of it also," Lewis said.
"It's a great program. It's a wonderful opportunity for the community to support the school and the students," McGimsey said.
For more information or to make a cash donation, contact Lewis at 865-458-8749.