Off to a good start

United Way of Bucks County will provide over 2,000 local children in need with school supplies through Stuff the Bus

By Samantha Bambino

The Times

It’s the first day of school. The teacher asks the class to take out a notebook and pencil to jot down instructions for an assignment. Most students dig through their new backpacks filled with supplies to find what they need. But not all.

Helping hands: This year, United Way of Bucks County’s goal is to provide 2,225 children in need with backpacks stuffed with school supplies to help them have a successful first day of class and school year. PHOTO: UNITED WAY OF BUCKS COUNTY

Some 16 percent of children in Bucks County struggle to have even their most basic needs met. For these kids, school supplies are out of reach because their families simply can’t afford them. From the moment they sit at their desk, they feel unprepared to learn. But United Way of Bucks County wants to change that. To ensure every child starts this school year full of confidence, head held high, it will provide more than 2,000 children with backpacks filled with required school supplies as part of its Stuff the Bus initiative.

According to project coordinator Danielle Bush, Stuff the Bus began in 2011 as an answer to a rising need United Way of Bucks County saw in the community. In its first year, Stuff the Bus gathered $10,000 worth of supplies and United Way staff organized all of the donations. Last year, 160 volunteers sorted $75,000 worth of supplies into backpacks. This year is expected to have at least 180 volunteers for the main Backpack-A-Thon event on Aug. 24 at Sesame Place, with 2,225 children receiving backpacks throughout all 13 school districts in Bucks County.

While Stuff the Bus doesn’t provide every item, it gives local kids who need it a nice start with supplies specialized for their grade level. Elementary students receive crayons and wide ruled notebooks while backpacks for middle and high school students include pens and college ruled composition books.

Acceptable donations can be anything from a single pack of pencils to a check for $70, which covers the cost of backpacks for two children.

“It’s an easy drive for any economic status,” Bush said.

From Aug. 16–18 at Westaby Hall in Fairless Hills, small inventory events will be hosted where community members sort the donations, and volunteers are still needed. United Way will then purchase any supplies it feels are lacking. After everything is organized, the supplies will be loaded onto buses donated by the Lower Bucks Family YMCA, and driven to Sesame Place for the Backpack-A-Thon on Aug. 24.

This main event will be held in the Big Bird Training Room at the Sesame Place HR Building in Langhorne. At 9 a.m., a ribbon-cutting ceremony will take place with state representatives, Bucks County superintendents and sponsors present, as well as some favorite Sesame Street characters. Lead sponsor, Wells Fargo, will have its historical stagecoach placed at the front of the theme park.

“At Wells Fargo, we want to make sure that every student has a successful first day of class — and a successful school year,” said Brian Formisano, Wells Fargo’s area president for Bucks County. “Filling these backpacks with school supplies is a great place to start. It will help students from all socio-economic backgrounds begin the year with the tools they need to be successful.”

Approximately 180 volunteers will be present throughout the day to help stuff the backpacks and include a personal note of encouragement for each child. Despite the large number of supplies the volunteers are working with, each item is purposefully selected.

“If it’s a ‘Hello Kitty’ backpack, they’ll choose pink notebooks and sparkly pens,” Bush said. “They care about each one.”

Overall, Bush described the Backpack-A-Thon as a high-energy, positive experience filled with people looking to make a difference in their community.

“When people step up and support Stuff the Bus, they’re really changing things for a child who needs help,” said Bush. “No matter how old the child is, you can just see the gratitude and pride when they get that brand new backpack.”

Sponsors for Stuff the Bus 2017 are Wells Fargo, Sesame Place, Cummins, PECO, Bank of America and Bay Sales. Additional support came from the nonprofits Bucks County Housing Group, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Bucks County, YWCA Bucks County, Catholic Social Services, Cradles to Crayons, Lower Bucks Family YMCA and Quakertown Alive!.

For more information on Stuff the Bus and to volunteer for any of the inventory events, visit uwbucks.org/stuffthebus. ••

Samantha Bambino can be reached at sbambino@newspapermediagroup.com