Backpacking to success
8th annual Stuff the Bus aims to provide school supplies to 3,000 local children in need
By Samantha Bambino
As we speak, parents are dragging their unwilling children to Staples for the dreaded back-to-school shopping spree. Carts are filled with pencils, notebooks, and other supplies required for the year, and students are forced to make the life-altering decision of choosing the perfect backpack and matching lunchbox emblazoned with a favorite character or logo.
Going to school equipped with these items is something most kids take for granted. But for four out of every 25 in Bucks County, having something as simple as a pencil on the first day isn’t always a given. Too often, supplies most people wouldn’t think twice about purchasing can push a low-income family over their budget.
To ensure local kids feel confident and prepared as they start this school year, United Way of Bucks County is hosting its eighth annual Stuff the Bus — an initiative that distributes school supply-filled backpacks to children in need in every district throughout the county, as well as 31 nonprofit agencies and faith-based groups.
“Just think about how being unprepared for a meeting makes you feel — frazzled, anxious and embarrassed,” said Danielle Bush, Stuff the Bus project director. “Now imagine walking into a classroom on the first day of school and think of how that must feel, especially to a child who may be dealing with a lot at home, too. It really impacts a student’s self-efficacy and their self-esteem.”
In 2017, thanks to the support of the community, Stuff the Bus achieved an unprecedented milestone, providing 2,868 kids with backpacks. This year, due to an anticipated increase in requests for backpacks from nonprofits, school districts and families, UW Bucks hopes to distribute 3,000, which would make it the biggest Stuff the Bus to date.
Each year, a number of local organizations join forces to help UW Bucks’ goal become a reality. Wells Fargo, BB&T, Bank of America, Bay Sales, LLC., Comcast, Cummins, PECO, Sesame Place and St. Mary Medical Center are collaborating with nonprofits United Way of Bucks County, Bucks County Housing Group, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Bucks County, YWCA Bucks County, Catholic Social Services and Bucks for Kids.
“At Wells Fargo, we’re again proud to partner with the United Way of Bucks County to make the start of the school year brighter for students across the region,” said Joe Kirk, Wells Fargo region president for Greater Philadelphia. “Our volunteers want to make sure that every student has a successful first day of class and filling these backpacks with school supplies will help students from all socioeconomic backgrounds begin the year with the tools they need to be successful.”
Each business sponsor will provide volunteer support for the culmination of Stuff the Bus — a high-energy event during which all donated supplies are sorted into backpacks and prepared for distribution across the county. Organized in an assembly-line fashion, hundreds of volunteers work diligently for nearly eight hours to ensure each backpack contains all essential supplies. Despite limited time and mountains of items surrounding them, the volunteers take care to individualize each backpack and its contents. For example, if they have a pink backpack in front of them, they’ll try to find matching supplies to be placed inside.
For the first time, the Stuff the Bus packing event will take place next door to UW Bucks’ office at the Fairless Hills Fire Department’s Westaby Hall. Supplies will be sorted and inventoried on Aug. 16, placed in backpacks by teams of volunteers on Aug. 23, and distributed on Aug. 24.
“Our organization is a proud supporter of this initiative and the community, especially when we can help children in need,” said Cliff Bidlingmaier, president of the Fairless Hills Fire Department and Westaby Hall.
“When people step up and support Stuff the Bus, they’re really changing things for a child who needs help,” added Bush. “It is an awesome feeling seeing these kids with their new school supplies. You just know how much they appreciate that brand new backpack by the big bright smiles on their faces.”
Those interested in helping Stuff the Bus can donate online at uwbucks.org/stuffthebus (a backpack filled with required school supplies costs about $35 per child, but all donations are welcome); or mail a check to United Way at 413 Hood Blvd, Fairless Hills, PA 19030 with “Stuff the Bus” in the memo line.
For those interested in volunteering to stuff the backpacks, the event will take place Thursday, Aug. 23, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Fairless Hills Fire Department’s Westaby Hall, 425 Hood Blvd. in Fairless Hills. To register, visit http://bit.ly/StuffTheBus18. ••
Samantha Bambino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org