CORNELIUS – Newly hired Principal Paula Rao was surprised to see a police patrol car pulling up to J.V. Washam Elementary the Friday before the school year began.

Instead of citations or handcuffs, officers were armed with crayons, notebooks and backpacks.

“This will make a real difference,” Rao said. “We have many families who are well off, but 18 percent are economically disadvantaged. Every child can start school ready, and parents can relax knowing their student has supplies.”

For the third year, the Cornelius Police Department asked the community to help “Pack the Patrol Car.”

Residents dropped off donations of all types July 28-Aug. 21 to the police department.

Sgt. J.R. Connors, Officer D.R. Messer and Officer C.E. Watts distributed the boxes Aug. 22 among Cornelius Elementary, J.V. Washam Elementary, Bailey Middle and Hough High.

Collections totaled more than 1,000 supplies in 2012 and 2013, police spokeswoman Betsy Shores said. This year, they had 1,400 donated items, thanks largely to efforts by the Bailey’s Glen community.

School supplies, such as backpacks, paper, notebooks, glue, crayons and markers, were divided among the four schools based on age appropriateness. Each school received an average of nine boxes of supplies.

Cornelius Elementary Principal Jessica Holbrook was grateful for the support. Holbrook said the supplies would be used for students who have been pinpointed as having a need or whose parents sought help.

“Unfortunately, we have students who don’t have the materials and school supplies they need day one and throughout the year,” she said. “People think if they buy them supplies the first of the year, they are done and forget they may need more throughout the year.”