Rock’n Ready helps more than 800 students with school supplies


As an incoming third-grader, Joshua Sutherland isn’t wild about the idea of leaving behind the free time that summer brings.

“I like staying home,” the 8-year-old boy said.

But with the help of Jackson County United Way’s annual Rock’n Ready school supply drive, Joshua has much of the supplies he will need Aug. 9 when school begins.

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He was one of 850 students in Jackson County able to fill a new backpack with supplies they need, thanks to Rock’n Ready.

Distribution of supplies donated throughout the month of July was conducted in Brownstown and Seymour on Saturday, and Crothersville already has distributed school supplies. Medora’s distribution will take place from 4 to 6 p.m. Friday at the school.

Rock’n Ready is organized by Jackson County United Way and utilizes volunteers to collect, organize and distribute school supplies to help ease the expenses associated with going back to school for local families.

“It helps get the supplies he needs,” said Joshua’s mother, Lori Sutherland. “I think he can get ready for school.”

Joshua, a student at Seymour-Jackson Elementary School, silently made his way around the Seymour High School commons taking time to pick out various school supplies.

“I think I like the red one,” he said of his choice between a red or a black backpack.

Tables were lined with backpacks, binders, folders, crayons, pencils and more in an effort to ease the cost of school supplies for local families.

A majority of the supplies were gone by the afternoon. Any leftovers will be given to local schools for students and teachers to use.

Volunteers collected more than 14,000 donated items for the event throughout the month of July.

About 350 to 400 volunteers helped collect supplies outside Walmart Supercenter in Seymour during the supply drive portion, said Bonita Dobbs, program manager for Jackson County United Way.

“We have volunteers through the whole month of July for that,” she said.

Many local businesses served as drop-off sites, too, Dobbs said.

There were 35 volunteers who arranged supplies the day before distribution, while 50 were used for distribution, and 20 helped with the Rock’n Run 5K walk and run.

Jackson County United Way purchased about 200 additional backpacks through monetary donations and the 5K.

The number of volunteers makes its the second-largest volunteer effort for the organization behind the annual Day of Caring.

“We don’t have a problem getting volunteers for this because it’s high impact and there are kids that need this,” Dobbs said. “I know when I ask Jackson County, whether it be financially or their gift of time, Jackson County steps up, and this is something we care deeply about.”

The volunteers unloaded the supplies at the school, carried the boxes in and unpacked them to be arranged. Sometimes, the temperatures were not favorable, Dobbs said.

“It’s truly a labor of love,” she said.

Myra Mellencamp has volunteered with the effort for several years and has served as co-chairwoman with Jackson County Public Library Director Julia Aker for the last two years.

She said the event is successful because of volunteers and the generosity of the community.

“This is a giving community, and I think a lot of people feel the same way we do and that helping kids out is the greatest thing you can do,” she said. “No matter what is going on in their lives, the kids don’t have control of it, and education is the most important thing in their lives, and we can help them with it.”

She said the exciting part this year was the multiple distribution sites, a first for the effort. In past years, volunteers simply dropped off supplies at schools if those in need could not make it to Seymour for the supplies.

This year, each community will have its own event.

“It wasn’t that they didn’t get supplies before, but it wasn’t an event,” Mellencamp said. “This is fun here today, and how exciting it is to be here for the event itself.”

She challenged people to think about starting a school year not feeling prepared.

“Think about how difficult it would be to start school without enough supplies,” she said, adding the event helps fill that void.

Tonja Couch, executive director of Jackson County United Way, said the program is not income-based because local families may need supplies during difficult periods of their lives, Couch said.

“We know families fall on hard times,” she said, noting a volunteer last year used the program even though she didn’t think she would meet an income guideline. “She had mounting medical bills and needed a little help.”

Dobbs said she witnessed the impact early in the morning when she saw a family with six children benefit from having new backpacks and supplies.

“The average backpack is about $10, so that’s $60 right there with an empty backpack for that family,” she said.

Dobbs said making a student feel prepared is effective in their ability to be successful and improve their attitude toward school.

“Principals and social workers talk about how they see a boost in self-confidence as a result of this program,” she said.

The supplies that were not distributed will be divided among the schools for students to use. The supplies won’t only go to students but also to their teachers, who often spend their own money to provide supplies for their classrooms.

“Most of the teachers we’ve asked say they spend $100-plus to get their classrooms ready,” Dobbs said. “This is a huge relief for them, too.”

Couch said she feels like that relief is what drives them to help not only their classrooms but their students and school.

“I think that’s one reason you see a lot of educators get involved because all year long, if a student’s backpack breaks or they need new folders or pencils, they just talk with their administrators to get additional supplies,” she said. “There are a lot of educators here giving up their Saturdays to be here, and they are high-fiving their kids and getting them ready for school.”

Dobbs said everyone should have an interest in making students successful because they are the future decision-makers.

“They’re our future leaders because they’re going to be doing our jobs and my job someday,” she said.

It looked as though Joshua Sutherland was one of the students Dobbs was talking about as he stood with the straps of his new red backpack over his shoulders outside Seymour High School.

“This event has a real impact, and it gets students ready for school,” she said.

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