Vans, trucks, cars and SUVs pulled up constantly outside of Aiken Electric Cooperative on Wednesday morning, and when they departed after quick stops, they were filled with notebooks, paper, ball point pens, pencils, glue sticks, rulers and three-ring binders.


During its annual distribution of school supplies, the United Way of Aiken County gave out more than 33,000 items to Aiken County's public schools. The organization collected the supplies and money to purchase them from local residents, businesses and civic groups through its School Tools program and Stuff the Bus event.


“The community has been very generous once again,” said United Way of Aiken County President Sharon Rodgers.


The goal of the United Way's effort is to help students who come from homes with low incomes.


“This is a great day for us because we can see the direct impact we are having on the lives of children,” Rodgers said.


Assisting the United Way's employees were about a dozen volunteers, who helped various school staff members load boxes of supplies into their vehicles. The day before, 20 volunteers had pitched in to sort the items in preparation for the distribution.


Cindy Hewitt, an assistant principal and guidance counselor, picked up Gloverville Elementary School's share of the supplies.


“This is a huge help for us,” she said. “Seventy-some percent of our students receive free or reduced-price lunches, and we don't want the lack of supplies to be the reason they aren't able to gain access to the same education as everybody else.”


Margo Gore, an assistant principal who works at Paul Knox Middle School in North Augusta, brought her son, James, to assist her with any heavy boxes. James attends Coastal Carolina University in Conway.


“This is awesome,” Gore said.


“We have a lot of kids who are in need, and this also helps the teachers, who buy things on their own for them all year long because they care.”


According to Dr. Randy Stowe, the Aiken County School District's director for administrative services, the need to purchase school supplies isn't the only financial challenge faced by parents of students at this time of year.


“In most cases, they also have to buy some new clothing for their children because it's near the end of summer, and you know how kids are, they all need a new pair of shoes,” he said. “It's not unusual for these families to have several kids, and having to buy school supplies and clothing all at the same time creates a burden for them. We hear about that a lot from families.”


Monday is the first day of the 2014-2015 school year in Aiken County.


Dede Biles is a general assignment reporter for the Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since January 2013. A native of Concord, N.C., she graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.