Volunteers get joy out  of unpacking for schools

Advocate staff photo by ADAM LAU -- Volunteers Mason Melancon, 16, Jeff Melancon, and Casey Sevario, from left, unload boxes from a school bus on July 18 at Central Middle School.
Advocate staff photo by ADAM LAU -- Volunteers Mason Melancon, 16, Jeff Melancon, and Casey Sevario, from left, unload boxes from a school bus on July 18 at Central Middle School.

For newly appointed Lakeside Primary School Principal Laurent Thomas, unpacking boxes and boxes of school supplies was a way to help the community, insure his students have the supplies they need and get to know some of his new staff.

That triple purpose is the kind of reward Volunteer Ascension Executive Sherry Denig says many get from their volunteer experiences.

In many cases, a simple volunteer assignment results in lasting friendships, a better understanding of the community needs and a longtime connection with volunteerism.

Thomas said he saw the opportunity to sort through thousands of school supplies as a team-building exercise with his new staff and “a way to give back to the community.”

Laurent also learned more about the system Volunteer Ascension has put in place to insure that students have the supplies they need for the upcoming school years.

It’s a fine-tuned system that requires months of planning, more than 300 volunteers and the dedication of the agency’s board and staff.

“But it’s all worth it because we know the students really need the supplies to learn,” Denig said.

“We don’t want a lack of school supplies to get in the way of instruction,” Thomas said as he and 10 of his co-workers sorted through school supplies on July 18 at Central Middle School.

More than two dozen volunteers were unloading four buses filled with everything from notebooks to dry erase markers the day after the Stuff the Bus campaign — a partnership with WBRZ-TV that filled four school buses with $32,196.33 worth of school supplies, Denig said.

The day before, more than 100 volunteers gathered in the Office Depot parking lot for the daylong Stuff the Bus campaign.

Throughout the day on July 17, residents and business leaders dropped off money and school supplies.

After each monetary donation was received, Denig darted inside the store to purchase more supplies and volunteers placed them inside the buses. Inside each bus, volunteers had labeled the seats to help sort the different types of supplies.

“It’s very organized,” Volunteer Ascension board member James LeBlanc said. “Sherry does a great job getting this together.”

In a few weeks, the volunteer will gather again to fill orders placed by area teachers.

The program provides the supplies requested by each school for children in kindergarten through eighth-grade.

Hannah Biggs, a teacher at Gonzales Primary School, called the program “a huge advantage” for her students.

“School supplies are so expensive and ... it’s so cool that so many people donate to kids they will never meet,” Biggs said.

She said the donated supplies “help our kids be successful.”