Custodian Organizes School Supply Drive

As a newly hired custodian three years ago, Tanya Rice was bothered by what she saw at the end of the academic year: brand-new school supplies discarded in haste by departing cadets who didn’t want to add them to their load.

“Why not give them to the kids around here? There’s parents that can’t afford it. Why not donate it?” she wondered.

This year, Rice moved from thought to action, spearheading an effort among multiple custodians and cadets to collect unused school supplies and donate them to Rockbridge County Public Schools. Her grassroots, word-of-mouth effort resulted in collecting an abundance of supplies, which were packaged in four large plastic totes and handed off to a grateful school system.

“Any time someone just calls you up out of the blue and wants do so something so kind for our kids, it’s greatly appreciated,” said Tim Martino, director of instruction for Rockbridge County Public Schools. “It’s just a kindhearted act. Ms. Rice did it without expecting anything in return.”

Among the many items Rice and others collected were graphing calculators, three-ring binders, highlighters, pencil boxes, notebooks, index cards, and multiple packages of loose-leaf paper. The classroom extras so prized by teachers, including hand sanitizer and boxes of tissues, were also in abundance. An avid bargain shopper, Rice supplemented the collected items with school supplies she’d found on clearance in local stores.

Custodian Tanya Rice collecting and handing off donated supplies to representative of Rockbridge County Public Schools. VMI Photos by Kelly Nye
VMI Photos by Kelly Nye

Rice’s outgoing personality helped her efforts. “I talk to everybody,” she explained. She’s especially gotten to know members and coaching staff of the Keydet football team, as she’s assigned mostly to cleaning Clarkson-McKenna Hall, which houses the football staff offices and team locker room.

“Everybody here is like my family,” she stated. “Even the boys here, it's like my kids.”
A native of Big Island in Bedford County, Rice began her career as part of a cleaning crew at Mohawk Industries in Glasgow before moving on a position as cook at Washington & Lee University. She quickly discovered, though, that cooking wasn’t her calling and shifted over to cleaning. When a job at VMI opened up, it was a natural fit.

“I love to clean,” she said. “I love it here.”

She also loves to help others and repay the generosity that’s been shown toward her family.

“My kids received some help back when they were younger,” she explained. “Sometimes I couldn’t afford it myself. I always said that when my kids grew up, I’d start giving to pay back what my kids got.”

Supporting the school supplies collection effort has been Lt. Col. Michelle Caruthers, director of Physical Plant. Looking to next year, Caruthers envisions a “more proactive” approach with multiple emails going out to cadets urging them to donate their unused supplies and flyers posted in barracks.

“Hopefully next year it’ll be bigger and better,” she commented. “Our team members are looking out for their community.”

In addition to Rice, custodians participating in the collection effort were Kathy Bennington, Belinda Clark, Charlotte Clark, Keaton Fisher, Terry Gibson, Brian Higgins, and Gary Johnson.

Mary Price
Communications and Marketing

VMI: Forging 21st Century Leaders