One by one, children and parents lined up at the stations inside Custer Baker Intermediate School — an assembly line of excitement building to a successful school year.

They filled backpacks with markers, crayons, notepads, folders and much more. Each new item brought shouts of joy as the kids loaded up on everything they’d need for the first day of class.

At the Franklin session of the United Way of Johnson County’s annual Fast Track school supply distribution, everyone had a chance to start the school year out right.

“It’s really good. All of this stuff would cost a lot, so it’s fun to come here and do it,” said fifth-grader Rilynn Gehring, who had come with her brother, third-grader Carson Staley.

The United Way continued its efforts to get school supplies to families in need on Wednesday, as the agency and its supporters were able to load up more than 350 students at the Franklin schools event. Among the county’s six school districts, organizers had reservations to distribute nearly 2,000 fully packed backpacks, and they expected to give out even more, said Nancy Lohr Plake, executive director of the United Way of Johnson County.

“Fast Track helps the kiddos get their first-day-of-school supplies ready. They’re ready to learn, they’re getting those instruments they need to learn,” she said. “It’s very hard to get your crayons out and color on the first day of school when you don’t have any crayons. It’s hard to do algebra and do assignments on a scientific calculator if you don’t have one.”

Fast Track has been a mid-summer tradition for the United Way for many years, in an effort to ensure low-income students are well-equipped for school.

The feedback on the program has been positive from both parents and teachers. According to the United Way, 97% of parents who attended Fast Track said it reduced their stress about providing their child with supplies for the first day of school.

Among local teachers, 95% said children equipped with needed supplies reduces stress on the first day of school.

Families can also receive guidance and direction to community resources if they have a particular need. Agencies such as Firefly, Windrose Health Network, Girls Inc. of Johnson County and more set up tables to distribute information and inform participants about programs available to them.

“The resources that our partners bring to our families are a wealth of information. They love to get this information, they seek it out. It’s resources they can use to help their family,” Plake said.

To make Fast Track work, the United Way relies on the generosity of donors to get items to kids who need them. Businesses throughout the county collect supplies throughout July, and volunteers bring in thousands more items during the Stuff the Bus event, which was held this year on July 15.

Members of the community stepped forward to volunteer to transport supplies to the different schools, sort them, store them and ensure the whole event was seamless, Plake said.

“They did everything from delivering baskets and boards so businesses could collect to working Stuff the Bus to packing all of the supplies to get them here,” she said.

Everything was ready for the families when the doors opened at Custer Baker. They flooded into the school’s gym, guided to the stations that had been broken up for elementary school, intermediate school, middle school and high school students.

“It means so much to them. These families are families who need the extra help getting school supplies, and every year we hear from so many of them,” said Cristy Williams, a counselor at Franklin Community High School and one of the organizers of the Franklin event. “They are so grateful that we can provide these supplies for them. And it’s a fun back-to-school night for them, to see friendly faces before school actually starts.”

The kids made their way down the line, marveling at the selection as they stuffed their backpacks. Each child received about $50 worth of supplies — a benefit for families who might struggle to find extra money to cover those costs.

First-grader Patience Lukins couldn’t contain her happiness as she pulled out boxes of markers and shiny new folders. Having all of the new supplies only added to her excitement to start school, she said.

The program was a lifesaver for the family, said Maleta Lukins, her mother.

“It’s a relief — it helps out a lot,” she said.

At the next station, Carson Staley and Rilynn Gehring were looking at glue sticks, scissors and other items. The two lugged their backpacks through the gymnasium with their dad, Brandon Staley, who helped them choose the right supplies.

They had been part of Fast Track in previous years, and were excited to participate again.

“I appreciate it a lot. It’s a good way to start the school year,” Staley said.


Fast Track

Student reservations at each school district (final tally of students served not available.)

Edinburgh: 70

Clark-Pleasant: 572

Center Grove: 446

Greenwood: 392

Franklin: 365

Indian Creek: 127

Total reservations: 1,972

— Information from the United Way of Johnson County