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Gary Hunt, founder and president of Bookbag Santa, sorts school supplies in the charity’s storage container.

By Gary Hunt

Hunt is the founder of Bookbag Santa, which is based in Roanoke.

I just read the Sept. 9 column by Esther Cepeda titled “Why do teachers have to pay for school supplies ?” I see three or four stories or interviews like that per year, and it drives me nuts. Teachers don’t get paid enough, as it is...

I am the president of a Roanoke-based 501c3 charity called “Bookbag Santa.” At the end of each school year, we put 10 big boxes in a dozen local schools and ask the students to put in whatever they don’t want for next year. A week later, when we pick them up, they are overflowing. American students toss everything as they rush for the door — pens, pencils, 3-ring binders, clean paper, $50 backpacks, calculators ... everything. Unopened packages of filler paper, pens, staples, glue sticks ... everything, and Mom and Dad buy it all new 3 months later. All teachers are aware of “Locker Clean-out Day” and the fact that the janitors carry barrels of stuff out to the dumpster, but you have to see 100 of our boxes, filled to the top, to really get a feel for the problem. After sorting out the trash — used note paper, damaged binders, etc., we keep 2 tons of good usable supplies out of the land-fill each year. Two tons, and that’s only a dozen schools. So, what happens to the supplies from all the other schools, colleges, and universities in Virginia? And the other 49 states?

This is what happens to our collected supplies — we donate them to any church or group that needs them for their projects like overseas missions, or disaster relief collections. In addition, Bookbag Santa takes a group of people and around a ton of boxes down to Belize every year. These supplies go to poor students in three little towns there.

So, I have always wondered why schools don’t put boxes in the hallways at the end of the school year. Or, why teachers don’t put a box in their classroom during the last week of school. They could spend an hour per box over the summer and have a lot of pens, pencils, clean paper, binders, rulers, etc. to give away next year. I’m not trying to put Bookbag Santa out of business — there are enough wasted supplies to go around.

I will be happy to talk to any teacher who wants to start collecting supplies at the end of the school year, and give tips on how to go about it, get students involved, and so on. I can send posters and notices to be printed out and put on bulletin boards and on the boxes themselves. Just send me an e-mail at: bookbagsanta@verizon.net, or click the “Contact us” link at: www.bookbagsanta.com.

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