By RICK HAYES
---- — MT. VERNON — A five-week campaign to collect school supplies for local schoolchildren will begin on Friday.United Way of South Central Illinois has announced its Stuff the Bus kickoff campaign will coincide with the organization's Day of Action. Day of Action is hosted on a single day in an effort to "recognize the passion, expertise and resources committed people bring every day to build a better life for all," a news release stated.The Stuff the Bus campaign — a community wide effort to collect school supplies for children in Jefferson County who receive reduced or free lunches at school — will culminate on July 19 when a school bus is filled with supplies generated by donations. The event will be held at GenFed on 42nd Street. A barbecue lunch will be served and prizes will be awarded."We would've started our Stuff the Bus campaign in another week, but with the Day of Action initiative, we thought it would be a good time to kick off our campaign," said United Way of South Central Illinois Executive Director Rhonda Edmonson. Donations are needed for about 2,000 to 3,000, she added.United Way is encouraging area residents to get involved in the campaign through several avenues. They include: Joining the United Way's Facebook page. Those who register before midnight Friday are eligible for a $50 Visa gift card; by committing to purchase two of the recommended school supplies items per week for the entire five-week project; commit to getting at least five other people to join the Facebook event; and by bringing items to GenFed on July 19."We are hoping to go viral on Friday and give people who may not live in Jefferson County the opportunity to help with this campaign," Edmonson said. "We know it's a little early to start thinking about buying school supplies but it takes about a month to collect the supplies."Donation boxes will be distributed to local businesses who request them, Edmonson said, and United Way volunteers will pick up them up if needed.Items designated by United Way each week include: Week One — two dozen pens or pencils; Week Two — two pairs of scissors; Week Three — four wide-ruled and four college-ruled notebooks; Week Four — a dozen glue sticks or bottles; and Week Five — 20 folders and two filler packs of paper.The organization also will accept $25 donations which will cover purchasing supplies for the entire five-week campaign."Our goal is to get as many items of school supplies donated for the Stuff the Bus project," Edmison. "We want to rally as many people as possible to participate in our Stuff the Bus Bash on July 19 and give back to the community and help children get started back to school with the supplies they need for a successful year."Those who can't participate in the Bash are encouraged to bring supplies to the United Way office on 42nd Street by July 31.Edmonson said volunteers will be needed during the week of Aug. 5 to sort the school supplies.