WALKER — Thousands of Livingston Parish students soon will be returning to school with shiny new pencils, pens, notebooks, rulers, calculators and other school supplies.

And for many, the accumulation of these items will come free of charge thanks to the Assess the Need program launched by Livingston Parish Assessor Jeff Taylor 11 years ago.

This year’s edition of Assess the Need started Saturday and will continue through Aug. 7.

Dozens of volunteers have agreed to work shifts on Saturdays and Sundays at the Walmart Stores in Walker and Denham Springs for the duration of the campaign. The volunteers accept school supplies and cash donations at their stations outside the stores.

In addition to these collection stations, financial contributions and school supplies can also be dropped off at the Livingston Parish Assessor’s Office at the Courthouse in Livingston from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Taylor reminds all donors that their gifts are tax deductible.

Assess the Need volunteer Jason VanderVuss, an eighth-grade history teacher and coach manning a collection station in Walker on Saturday, said he was participating in the program because of his first-hand knowledge of the importance of getting school supplies in the hands of his students.

“There is satisfaction in doing this because I know that we are helping those who are in need. It’s certainly worth the effort,” VanderVuss said.

The theme of Taylor’s Assess the Need program is, “Giving our children the tools they need to learn … and succeed.”

All donations go to provide school supplies for children in the parish who have been determined to benefit from this assistance. Teachers and principals estimate nearly 10 percent of the district’s student population will start school without the supplies they need, according to Taylor’s promotional pamphlet.

After the supplies have been collected and additional purchases made with cash donations, volunteers will organize and distribute the supplies to all parish public schools. Organizers have set a goal of having all the supplies at each school by the first day of classes. Principals and teachers will then distribute the items to those children who need them most.

Paul Sibley, a volunteer braving the July heat in front of the Walker Wal-Mart on Saturday said of his involvement in the program, “I enjoy giving something back. I believe that it is more blessed to give than to receive. I’m just doing my small part to help this great program.”

Sibley said most people are responding to the call for help with school supplies and added, “many people are very generous.”

Becky Maus, band director at North Corbin Junior High School and an Assess the Need volunteer, said of the program, “this is a reaffirmation of the goodness of people in general. I think the public realizes the need and many are willing to give because they care.”

Maus said the joy of seeing the generosity of her fellow citizens makes the effort rewarding and worthwhile.

Joining her at the collection station in front of the Walker Wal-Mart was Dennis DeLee, principal of the North Corbin school.

DeLee observed, “So many young people are directly impacted by this program.  We enjoy a really wonderful working relationship with many of our citizens and the Assess the Need program affords us the opportunity to get the community really involved in the schools.”

DeLee added, “It gives you a good feeling to know that you are helping the kids who are not as fortunate as others. It is gratifying to see how generous some people are. You look at some people and think that they don’t have much to give ... but they give anyway. It’s gratifying and satisfying to see the support that our students are getting through this program.”

No estimates are available on just how much money and supplies have been donated to needy students over the 11 years Assess the Need has been in existence, but the volunteers interviewed agreed that hundreds and hundreds of lives are touched each year through the program.

Part of the mystique of returning to school each year is the accumulation of brand new school supplies — rich smelling crayons, pretty pens and pencils, reams of fresh, crisp paper, and so many other things that are part of the ritual of beginning the learning process all over again.

Thanks to Assess the Need, all Livingston Parish students should be able to start the school year with a supply of these “goodies” that are an integral facet of the total learning picture.