Back to school drives are in full swing across the country as children and their families prepare for the upcoming academic year.

Thanks to efforts by City of Centralia staff and the community at large, students who can’t afford everything they’ll need will have access to a cache of goods this fall. 

A competition between three major branches of city government — Centralia City Light, the Public Works Department and City Hall — yielded a total of 654.1 pounds of materials ranging from pencils and paper to backpacks and sneakers. The public works staff collected 177.6 pounds of non-paper items to win a friendly contest between the three groupings. They will receive a shipment of bagels and donuts in the near future, at the expense of City Light (165.7 pounds) and City Hall (119.3 pounds) staff members.

“That’s just the icing on the cake for us,” Centralia Public Works Director Kim Ashmore said. “The real winners here are the kids. For the city employees to get behind the competition and gather more than 650 pounds of supplies, that will help out a lot of kids.”

Centralia City Council member Peter Abbarno started the school supply drive five years ago by spearheading an effort among members of the business community via the law firm of Althauser Rayan Abbarno and the Centralia Community Foundation. Last year was the first time the City of Centralia participated in an official capacity — staff members filled 20 backpacks with supplies, notes of encouragement and dollar bills. The competition aspect began when City Manager Rob Hill brought up the annual drive at a staff meeting earlier this summer.

Two of Abbarno’s children currently attend Edison Elementary School. His wife Holly was teaching at Edison when the drive started.

“She would come home almost weekly asking either my office or for us to buy sneakers and shoes and supplies,” Abbarno said. “We still do that during the year. Little by little, the supply drive has kept growing to where last year, we filled a huge bus over at Walmart with supplies. I expect much of the same this year.”

Collection of school supplies will continue throughout this week at local business including Dick’s Brewing Company, Innovations in EyeCare and The Chronicle. A Stuff the Bus event is scheduled for Friday-Sunday at Walmart in Chehalis. Larger items such as school clothes and three-ring binders are best given at the Stuff the Bus location.

Once the drive is complete, the supplies are housed at Dick’s Brewing Company and sorted out by age group — crayons and markers for the younger students, calculators and protractors for the older ones. The supplies are then delivered directly to local schools, where they are metered out to children in need.

“We always felt when we started this that the people who know best where these items need to go are the counselors at the schools,” Abbarno said. “They see all the students and talk to the teachers, so we want the schools to have access to the supplies for the counselors to then give them to the students.”

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