BLOOMINGTON — As Jaime Russell and other volunteers quickly unloaded a Connect Transit bus stuffed with donations for Children's Home + Aid's Crisis Nursery on Monday, she saw more than diapers, baby wipes, stuffed animals, infant formula, baby food and clothing.

"I'm seeing families who will be affected by this," Russell said as she handed diapers into the outstretched hands of other volunteers. "I'm thinking about how many families this is going to benefit."

Russell, Children's Home + Aid program manager for family support, was among 40 volunteers with that agency, Connect Transit, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 752, Great Plains Media and Paul Davis Restoration who unloaded a 40-foot long Connect Transit bus outside Children's Home + Aid, 403 S. State St.

The bus was nearly full of babies' and children's supplies donated by shoppers when the bus was parked last week outside Wal-Mart stores in Bloomington and Normal and Kroger in Normal.

It was the 15th annual Stuff the Bus drive. While numbers of items donated won't be known until counting and storing are completed later this week, volunteers who unloaded the bus and sorted donations in the Crisis Nursery on Monday agreed that donations appeared to be higher this year.

"It's significantly more," Russell said. "Every year it keeps getting bigger."

"Our community, as a whole, saw families struggling during the state budget impasse," said Jeannie Higdon, family support services supervisor. "The community's generosity increased and that has continued, even with a budget."

Financial contributions eclipsed the record high $1,735 donated in 2015. Higdon reported that $4,538 had been donated this year in cash, gift cards and checks, including a $2,500 sponsorship check from Paul Davis Restoration.

Children's Home + Aid "is a caring, local organization that everyone could get behind," Paul Davis Restoration owner and general manager Chris McConnell said as he helped to unload the bus.

"It's good giving back to the community and giving kids a chance," added Chuck Slone, Connect Transit service technician and an ATU Local 752 member.

Donations will be used by children who are taken to the Crisis Nursery over the next year because they are at risk of abuse or neglect because of domestic violence, homelessness, mental illness or other crisis.

According to Tiffanny Powell, program manager for family support services, during the fiscal year that ended June 30, the Crisis Nursery had 2,737 admissions for 202 children while providing 102 post-crisis home visits and 104 parent support group meetings.

Starting the unloading on Monday were 18 students from Children's Home + Aid's Scott Early Learning Center Pre-School for All program. Among them was Gianna Poole, 4 of Normal.

"I carried in that (toy) puppy with the white fur and brown fur," she said.

Why was she helping?

"It's for babies!" Gianna said.

Follow Paul Swiech on Twitter: @pg_swiech

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Health Editor

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