ODESSA – Natalie Valdes was among those who answered the call when help was needed packing and loading school supplies for more than 600 teachers across Pasco County.
The 17-year-old Valdes is a member of the Sunlake High weightlifting team, so toting a few boxes was no sweat.
“We use the same technique, which is nice,” she said.
Valdes was among numerous volunteers who helped sort, box and load the school supplies, which were donated during the annual Stuff the Bus for Teachers campaign sponsored by United Way of Pasco and held over the weekend at Publix Supermarkets and Walmart stores throughout the county.
Shoppers could visit school buses parked at the stores to see supply wish lists, then drop off their donations when they finished shopping.
The community responded by providing about $140,000 worth of supplies or cash that could be used to purchase supplies. Donors filled the buses with pencils, paper, composition notebooks, crayons and other items.
A major contributor was Kids Wish Network, which donated 500 sets of small tables and chairs, 1,400 board games and 2,000 unstuffed plush animal skins that can be made into stuffed animals.
At Odessa Elementary on Monday, volunteers began sorting through the donations, preparing boxes for the 690 teachers at 80 schools who had signed up to receive supplies.
“It’s been a lot of effort and coordination,” said Summer Romagnoli, a spokeswoman for the school district.
Then on Tuesday, it was time to load everything aboard four trucks supplied by Two Men and a Truck, which would make the deliveries to the schools.
Shawn Foster, chairman of the board for United Way Pasco, said with budget cuts to the classrooms, Stuff the Bus represents a way for the organization to help out the schools.
“We’ve seen that education needs us now more than ever,” he said.
Joanne Hurley, chairwoman of the school board, expressed appreciation for the help.
“This is the kind of event that we as a school district could not do on our own,” she said.
Valdes and four other members of the Sunlake High girls’ weightlifting team put their training to use as they joined in.
In addition to Valdes, team members helping were Stephanie Frances, 17, Catalina Valdes, 15, Keegan Murray, 17, and Rachael Thibeau, 17.
The girls can bench press anywhere from 80 pounds to about 170They said they weren’t called on to lift much more than about 10 pounds Tuesday.
The work was steady, though.
“It’s a lot of reps,” Natalie Valdes said.
Tampa Bay Online
Tampa Bay, Florida