This August, for the last time in more than 17 years, Federal Way Public Schools Business Application Manager David Wilson will organize his last school supply campaign.
As the Supply Our Students organizer, Wilson, who is set to retire in September, has been responsible for storing, purchasing and sorting school supplies donated to the school district throughout the year and through community efforts such as the Fill the Canoe School Supply Drive hosted by Red Canoe Credit Union in Federal Way.
He also goes shopping for supplies, too. Each year the school district maintenance department hosts a golf tournament fundraiser, and the proceeds are given to Wilson to buy supplies.
“I can tell you where all the good deals are at,” he said. “Wal-Mart and Target are my friends.”
He also fields phone calls from people offering to donate items and has turned down two pianos in the past. The rest of the supplies are welcomed, and items that don’t go to students instead are distributed to office staff at the schools.
Wilson took over the district campaign in 1986. He said the program has grown through the years as more organizations and businesses have gotten involved. In addition to the Red Canoe school supply drive, Costco has donated backpacks and Communities in Schools and other volunteers host a packing party each August, where the school supplies are packed into boxes later distributed to schools.
“We’ve gone from literally a couple to 300 boxes that’ll go out of here on that day,” Wilson said.
Bridget O’Connor, a Red Canoe employee who is involved with the school supply drive at her business, said Wilson has been a champion for students through his efforts.
“David donates his own time to the sorting and distribution of the project,” she said in an email. “Every year David sorts, raises funds to shops (and I know gives from his own pocket) inventories and packages supplies — and works with every single school on what they need — creating a full packing/inventory list that school counselors pick up prior to the start of school.”
While the school supply drive has gotten larger each year, Wilson said he doesn’t mind.
The number of students eligible for free and reduced lunch has grown through the years, from 50 percent to 80 percent at the elementary school level.
“That’s the biggest thing that surprised me when I first got started,” Wilson said of the students in need.
Those students are also what has kept him going throughout the years.
“We haven’t been able to get our free and reduced [lunch rate] down to zero,” he said. “We have the need. It’s there.”
While each school gets school supplies, which include everything from composition notebooks to Crayola Crayons, the only item he doesn’t buy generic, Wilson said the number of boxes each school gets depends on the need. Some elementary schools get more boxes than others. How the items are distributed is left up to school employees.
O’Connor said she will miss working with Wilson when he retires and hopes another champion steps up following his departure.
“I’ve only had the pleasure of working with him the past eight years on our Fill The Canoe Project, prior to which David paved the way for giving to students in need, so that when they show up for school, they are ready to succeed,” O’Connor said in an email.
District spokeswoman Alison Dempsey-Hall said the district will continue to work with community partners to support school supply efforts.
Red Canoe is collecting donations for its Fill the Canoe School Supply Drive through Aug. 11. Donation sites are at Red Canoe Credit Union, 336th Street and Pacific Highway in Federal Way; Federal Way Public Schools Educational Service Center, 33330 Eighth Ave. S.; the Greater Federal Way Chamber of Commerce, 31919 First Ave. S., Suite 202; and St. Francis Hospital, 34515 Ninth Ave. S.
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