GREENFIELD — Lucy Morelock sorted Spider-Man knapsacks from those bearing sparkles, rummaging through a mountainous pile on the gym floor.
This week marked her eighth birthday, and she had asked her mom if they could do a good deed on her special day. So Lucy and mom Delaney Morelock, a Greenfield native, drove from the Kokomo area to join about 50 other volunteers for the annual Backpack United school supplies sorting event.
The event, organized by the United Way of Central Indiana, brings in some 40,000 school supplies — and about $5,000 to buy even more — for students at Hancock County schools.
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United Way’s school-supplies drive launched locally in 2003; since then, the nonprofit has received some 350,000 school supplies, said Paula Jarrett, United Way of Central Indiana – East executive director.
Organizers work with teachers to make sure they know the specifics about what kids need to start off the year; they then distribute that list to community partners that have agreed to hold collection drives.
A collection drive Wednesday, nicknamed Stuff the Bus, sent United Way employees and volunteers to retrieve thousands of crayons, glue sticks and folders — and thousands in monetary donations — from businesses and organizations that have spent weeks stocking up.
Those donations were loaded onto the yellow bus bound for J.B. Stephens Elementary School, where volunteers this week sorted and counted the items. In the coming days, supplies will be delivered to 17 county schools, set aside for families who might not otherwise be able to afford school supplies.
Nearly 30 percent of Hancock County kindergarten through eighth-graders are eligible to receive donated supplies because they qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, said Jeannie Roberts, volunteer coordinator for the local United Way office. Guidance counselors may provide supplies to anyone they believe is in need, however, she added.
During school registration, counselors identify which students need school supplies and then the youngsters are invited to go “shopping,” when they can pick out backpacks, crayons and whatever else is on their teacher’s supply list.
On Thursday, volunteers focused on making sure the items were counted and neatly sorted for delivery. About a dozen volunteers from NineStar Connect arrived promptly at 9 a.m. to begin unloading supplies from the bus.
Monica Sexton, an accountant with the utility company, arranged for employees to take part in the effort because she was interested in a volunteer opportunity her department could participate in as a team, she said.
“It worked out great,” she said. “It’s fun, and it’s rewarding to know you’re helping children.”
The program depends on volunteers to run smoothly, Roberts said. That includes first-timers, like the group from NineStar, and those who come back year after year.
Donna Perkins, former head custodian for J.B. Stephens, is one of the people who donates her time year after year to the effort. She used to work at the same time as the organization event, formerly known as Backpack Attack, but when she retired, she told organizers to call her if they needed help.
And they have.
“I’m always willing to come back and help,” she said. “There are kids in Greenfield with nothing, and they can’t have a good school year without their school stuff.”
Lucy was also a repeat volunteer for the program, said her mother. She was surprised, but proud, when her daughter requested to take part in Backpack United for her birthday, she said.
“It turned out to be loads of fun,” Lucy said.
United Way of Central Indiana accepts donations of school supplies and monetary gifts for its annual school supplies drive. Supplies are accepted throughout the year.
To make a monetary donation, checks should be filled out to United Way of Central Indiana, memo to “Backpack United.”
United Way of Central Indiana
One Courthouse Plaza, Greenfield, IN
Editor’s note: this story previously contained a sentence that incorrectly combined United Way of Central Indiana’s entire service area’s efforts with the local Backpack United drive. The overall program started in 1999, but it did not come to Hancock County until 2003.