The idea behind the first-ever "Fill the Bus" project is to use a designated school bus and fill it with non-perishable food items and toiletries donated by students and staff members within the district, said Neeley, a school bus mechanic for North Putnam Community School Corp.
Items can be dropped off at any North Putnam school building during school hours and at various athletic events starting Monday. What is collected will then be given to Bainbridge Christian Church, Roachdale Christian Church and Russellville Community Church during distributions on Nov. 18.
Neeley developed the idea of helping local food pantries within the North Putnam district after thinking about the food lines in the community.
"There are people that need. The food line in this country is unbelievable," he said. "It's not right when the elderly toss up a coin every day to make the decision whether to buy medicine or to buy food."
Neeley said the purpose of Fill the Bus is two-fold: To help those in need by filling up food banks and to show kids that they can make a difference, whether it is one person helping another or 1,800 students helping multiple communities.
"I don't have intervention with the students every day," he said. "This is my way of giving back to them and the community."
North Putnam Community School Corp. Superintendent Mary Sugg Lovejoy is a big supporter of the project.
"It's a wonderful opportunity for students to come together to help those in need during these tough economic times," she said. "I love the concept of filling the bus at a football game. I really appreciate the effort."
Neeley said he hopes the initiative this year could be a competition between grades, classes, clubs, sporting events and school buildings. In future years, he would like to see it become a joint countywide project across all school districts in Putnam County.
Despite the competitive nature of Fill the Bus, Neeley said all involved have something to gain.
"What's great about the program is that no matter if you're the student with the highest I.Q. or the student that's struggling or if you're popular or the student who's the wall flower in corner, or the greatest athlete North Putnam ever had or in a wheelchair -- we're all on the same level with this project," he said. "Everybody's a winner -- people in need and those who give."