LaGRANGE — Christmas came early for folks at the offices of the Troup County Board of Education on Thursday.
Brightly colored back packs leaned up against dozens of boxes filled to the brim with school supplies like glue, paper, white boards, markers and more. Bags filled with pencils and erasers sat upon new notebooks filled with fresh unused paper that were piled on top of boxes heaped with small boxes of Crayola crayons.
There was no Santa Claus or sleigh delivering these gifts — instead it was a bus from Kia of LaGrange, a van from Loy’s Office Supplies and a heavy-duty pickup truck from Jackson Heating and Air. All three drivers just as jolly and each with a heart of gold as old Saint Nick himself.
The group was part of the inaugural Stuff the Bus campaign, a project to collect school and teaching supplies to handout to students and staff at public schools throughout Troup County. Not only did the three companies donate items, but several local businesses also jumped on board to contribute supplies, such as Loy’s Office Supplies, General Family Dentistry with Dr. John Vollenweider and Advertising Made Easy.
Employees and complete strangers stopped by designated sites at Kia of LaGrange and Jackson Heating and Air to drop off supplies, or called in orders to Loy’s Office Supplies.
“We were proud to be a part of this. We were so pleased to be a part of this,” said John Gerdeman, general sales manager of Kia of LaGrange. “The response was so overwhelming. We weren’t sure what to expect, and it turned out really well.”
Gerdeman estimated they donated close to $6,000 worth of supplies to the school system.
“It’s the little things. ‘Mom, I don’t have this. Mom, I don’t have that.’ It’s the stress of ‘I don’t have this’ and they can’t afford it. No one likes that feeling,” said Gerdeman.
“There are people who can’t afford school supplies, so this helps bridge that gap,” said Yolanda Stephen, director of public relations for the Troup County School System. “We’ll make sure this gets to the right people … teachers and students.
“I’ve said ‘thank you’ 50 times over and I just can’t say ‘thank you’ enough. We’ve had church partners donate items too. So when I say this has been a community effort, it truly has been a community effort.”
Stuff the Bus was the brain child of Gerdeman and Dale Jackson, owner and partner of Jackson Heating and Air. They wanted to do something to help not only the students, but teachers too.
“I’m overwhelmed by the support of the community. It was great,” said Dale Jackson, owner/partner of Jackson Heating and Air. “I’m glad we’re able to directly support the teachers and students. That’s what this was about, helping teachers that were going to come out of their own pockets to help their students buy missing supplies.”
Jackson and Gerdeman were so excited by the success of the first ever Stuff the Bus event that they are already planning for next year’s campaign — which they promised will be bigger and better.
“We’re going to start off early next year,” said Gerdeman. “We want to get it done earlier, before school registration, so (TCSS) can get the supplies to the kids before school starts.”
“I’m extremely proud and excited about how big it’s going to be next year,” Jackson exclaimed. “Next year is going to dwarf what we accomplished this year.”
Melanie Ruberti is a reporter at LaGrange Daily News. She may be reached at 706-884-7311, ext. 2156.