MOREHEAD CITY — Amber Chesley, a single mother of three school-age children, was among hundreds of county residents who waited Wednesday to pick up free school supplies at Parkview Baptist Church during the Stuff the Bus school supply distribution.

Residents began lining up in front of the church at 3 a.m. for free supplies, shoes and haircuts offered to families that need assistance making sure their children have a positive start to the new school year. Students report to public school classrooms Monday, Aug. 26.

“It’s a weight off my shoulders. I live in low-income housing and it’s tough buying supplies for three kids,” Ms. Chesley, of Morehead City, said.

Tina Dowd of Beaufort, also a single mother of three children, agreed.

“It’s a big help when you’re buying for three kids,” Ms. Dowd said. “It’s a blessing and it means a whole lot.”

This is the 14th year for Stuff the Bus. This year’s event was co-sponsored by Parkview Baptist Church, the public school system, the Carteret County Association of Realtors and other organizations.

People donated school supplies and money to the Stuff the Bus campaign, as did many businesses, churches and organizations.

For those unable to come Wednesday, additional giveaways are planned from 4-5 p.m. Sunday at Beaufort Elementary, Broad Creek Middle, Newport Middle and Down East Middle/Smyrna Elementary schools.

Parkview Pastor John Carswell, who oversees the effort, said they prepared nearly 600 backpacks filled with supplies for elementary, middle and high school students.

They gave away 356 backpacks Wednesday, so there are still plenty of supplies for those coming to distributions Sunday.

As for the Wednesday event, in addition to school supplies, Pastor Carswell said area hairdressers and barbers gave 86 free hair cuts to children who sat in booths set up in the church’s fellowship hall. Haircuts will not be available Sunday.

Plus, volunteers gave away 229 pairs of free shoes, which will also not be available during this weekend’s distributions. Children and parents were able to choose from a variety of styles and sizes. Volunteers assisted children in trying shoes on to ensure they got the right size.

Pastor Carswell said despite the challenges county families faced during Hurricane Florence last September, he was amazed at the amount of donations that came in this year.

“The community really poured it on this year,” Pastor Carswell said. “We filled the floors and seats of two buses with supplies. I think people may have given more because they knew so many families had been hit hard by Florence. We probably had a 50% increase in the amount of donations from last year.”

Pastor Carswell thanked the community for their generosity.

“The amount of love and support showed this year speaks volumes to the heart of Carteret County,” Pastor Carswell said. “It just shows how through difficult times we do pull together. We are still Carteret strong.”

Those volunteering Wednesday said they were doing it for the children. Among those helping were a group of county school resource officers, including Lt. Mike Panzarella with the County Sheriff’s Office who serves as the intelligence liaison for the county school system.

“By us volunteering it helps the kids to see us earlier and helps us establish relationships,” Lt. Panzarella said. “We have such a great working relationship with our school system and we want to help them out.”

Donell Bryant, the director of the Craven Community College barber program, brought a group of barber students to help him with haircuts.

“We want to show students that the way to find ourselves is to lose ourselves in service to others,” Mr. Bryant said. “Our students also get experience while they’re here.”

Craven Community College barber student David Myers said it was his first year volunteering with the event.

“I really think being involved in your community is a great thing,” he said. “I just enjoy being able to give back.”

White Oak Elementary School instructional technology facilitator Marsha Sirkin, a longtime volunteer with Stuff the Bus, said making sure all students are prepared with supplies at the first of the year is important.

“I feel like educating a child is more than just what they study in school,” Ms. Sirkin said. “Educating the whole child means they have to be safe and happy.”

Ms. Sirkin added that she thought there was a more diverse group of people seeking assistance with supplies this year due to the hurricane.

“I think there’s a diverse group of recipients and donors this year because so many had to deal with losing homes and things themselves,” she said.

In addition to the distribution of supplies, the County Health Department and the school system’s Child Nutrition Department were set up in another room to provide free information to families. Each child was also given an apple to eat while they waited for supplies.

The school system’s bus transportation department also had a school bus parked outside to familiarize students with bus safety rules.

Contact Cheryl Burke at 252-726-7081, ext. 255; email Cheryl@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @cherylccnt.

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