By Kim West
A steeple-topped elementary school tucked away in a quiet neighborhood near downtown Athens bustled with activity Friday afternoon as city school employees unloaded equipment, teachers set up their classrooms and an AES staffer worked amid a front-office remodeling project.
Friday also marked the first day of several deliveries from Athens Publix to Athens Elementary as part of the grocery chain’s annual back-to-school campaign.
Publix, located at the corner of Lindsay Lane and U.S. 72, is selling school supply bags ranging from $5 to $10.95 to customers until Aug. 14. All bags will be distributed to AES students, said assistant store manager Michael Forsythe.
Athens Elementary, a K-4 school on North Madison Street, has a high rate of low-income students, with approximately 80 percent qualified for the federal free-and-reduced meal program, according to school officials.
Forsythe said the school supply campaign is a corporate-wide community service project dating back at least 10 years, and this is the second straight year AES will receive the goody bags filled with items ranging from pocket-size Kleenex and pencils to packages of paper and Band-Aids.
Forsythe said the Athens location’s goal for this year is $5,000, and he expects to exceed that total. The campaign collected $1,218 from July 25-31 through customer donations, and the store contributes by ordering supplies through a company warehouse and sorting items into grade-specific bags.
Nick Looney, a 20-year-old sophomore majoring in secondary education at Athens State University, is a stocker and cashier at the Athens Publix. He is among the store’s approximately 120 employees that help promote the drive, unload the supplies and stuff the bags.
“We have a lot of customers who are educators or involved with school systems that have donated,” said Looney after he helped Forsythe deliver 16 boxes of supplies at the school.
Scott Sutton, hired as AES principal July 2, said the school supply bags would be distributed to students that need them after the faculty meets Aug. 19, on the first day of school. He said teachers sometimes dip into personal funds to buy supplies for students in need, and this year’s state allocation for classroom supplies is $300 per teacher.
“Everything that is brought to us, we’ll turn around and give it to our students. This is a good benefit for our teachers and students,” Sutton said.