United Way drive ensures school supply stash throughout the year

July 22, 2022


By John Bailey


A pencil. A crayon. A glue stick. A spiral notebook.

For many families, these are items that fill a backpack headed to a classroom and another day at school.

For a single mother of four, these are the tools that help build equity for her children, help ensure a positive future.

But by November, for that mom, those school supplies might be running low. 

beth embree


That is where the Catawba County United Way School Supply Drive can help. The thousands of items donated through the month of July can be stockpiled by all three local public school districts – Catawba County, Hickory Public and Newton-Conover.

“It can be difficult for teachers, when they see how hard a parent is working to keep their household together, to then ask that parent to purchase more supplies for their child,” St. Stephens Elementary School Assistant Principal Beth Embree said.

“How nice is it, as a school, to say we have extra items and be able to meet the family in the middle. They gave their child the supplies at the beginning of the school year and now we can help cushion that  usage and support them throughout the rest of the year.”

The 2022 United Way School Supply Drive runs through Aug. 1, and donations can be dropped off at the Catawba County United Way office – 2760 Tate Blvd SE in Hickory. The items will be distributed to the school districts prior to the start of the school year, and parents can access these supplies through their child’s school guidance office.

Last year, the United Way drive collected more than 6,000 individual items to help meet the need for school supplies.

The percent of economically disadvantaged students in 2021 was 41.3 percent in Catawba Co. Schools, 53 percent in Hickory Public Schools and 50.5 percent in Newton-Conover City Schools, according to the NC Department of Public Instruction.

"With the pandemic, we've had families that had to work odd hours and they're having to really collaborate with extended family or friends to try and do childcare, get work hours in and get kids to school," Embree said.

As a former guidance counselor, she remembers working with a student who along with her siblings went to their grandmothers after school. It was the young student’s job to make sure everyone got their homework done, but they didn't always have the tools they needed. One time, they were missing crayons for a coloring assignment.

"I told her this was not a problem, and I was able to prepare a goody bag with supplies for each of the three kids that she could take and leave at her grandmother's house, so she didn't have to take them back and forth," Embree said.

What was a point of stress for the student became an easy fix for Embree because of extra school supplies.

For North Newton Elementary Assistant Principal Jill Hager, the power of donations was illustrated last year with bookbags.

The school had run through its stockpile but there was still a need. Fortunately, a donation of brand new bookbags came in from a chain store.

"The only thing was they already had names stitched to them. Names that weren't necessarily our kids,” Hager said.

That didn’t matter, the assistant principal added. The students lit up in smiles when they saw the new bags.

"To know we were able to take that donation and give it back to the kids, and that they were so thrilled, it was just a tremendous moment,” Hager said. “It didn't matter where it came from. It didn't matter if it had another kid's name on it. They loved it."

For more information about how you can support the Catawba County United Way School Supply Drive call 828-327-6851 or email jbailey@ccunitedway.com.

Current collection partners include: A Woman’s View, Ascension Youth Center and Book Store, Authentic Church, Catawba Co. Dept. of Social Services, Catawba County Government Center, Catawba County Library , Catawba Valley Healthcare, Century Furniture – case goods, Cloninger Ford Hickory, CommScope, City of Newton, Eastern Catawba Coop. Christian Ministry, Hickory Community Yoga and Wellness, Hickory Chair, Hickory Crawdads, Maiden Chapel Baptist Church, Pace at Home, Partnership for Children, Paramount Automotive, Peoples Bank, Pepsi, St. Aloysius Catholic Church, Truist Bank, West Rock, and ZF Chassis Components.