Over 3,350 children are kicking off the 2023-24 academic year on a positive note thanks to the generosity of the community and two local philanthropists.
United Way of Bucks County recently announced that its annual Stuff the Bus back-to-school drive raised enough money to fill the backpacks of each student on its list — 3,355 to be exact — with essential classroom supplies.
Stuff the Bus is the largest project of its kind in the community and serves every school district in Bucks, along with 17 nonprofit partners. It aims to alleviate the burden of back-to-school costs on families, especially since, according to the National Retail Federation, 2023 is projected to be the most expensive school shopping season in history.
Marissa Christie, president and CEO at United Way of Bucks County, said, “Stuff the Bus ensures that every child in our community has the tools they need to succeed academically. Not only that, but it also sends a powerful message of hope and support to kids. No matter the reason their families need help, we’re showing them that Bucks County cares.”
Dr. Dana Bedden, Superintendent of Schools, Centennial School District, said, “Stuff the Bus plays a vital role in our efforts to close the gap to ensure students have what they need to be successful. In short, schools can’t do it alone, and Stuff the Bus is a crucial part of filling a need for the CSD students and families.”
In the midst of the drive, local philanthropists Gene and Marlene Epstein offered a dollar-for-dollar match of up to $10,000 when they heard that kids were still on United Way’s waiting list for school supplies.
After the nonprofit called on the community to help, donors contributed $16,138 — more than enough to secure the full matching grant.
“We’re so grateful for the Epsteins and for everyone in our community who came together to double their impact on kids in need,” said Christie. “Together, we gave thousands of children across Bucks County the tools — and confidence — that they need to succeed.”
Gene said, “We don’t want there to be any barriers to kids’ success. Success in life starts with a good education. We want every kid to be able to create a bright future for themselves.”
Additionally, the matching gift helped United Way fully stock its HELP Center with school supplies. The HELP Center, located in Bristol, is an 8,000-square-foot warehouse, distribution center and store that provides essential items and a dignified personal shopping experience for local families in need, all free of charge.
Katie Matarazzo, project manager for Stuff the Bus, said, “School supplies are some of the most requested items at our HELP Center. We’ve already had almost 100 additional requests for backpacks and other supplies since the school year started. Stuff the Bus, along with our HELP Center drives, ensures that these resources are available to families year-round.”
Also aiding in the efforts of Stuff the Bus was Sesame Place, which, from Aug. 28-Sept. 1, collected new backpacks, juice boxes and classroom cleaning supplies, including disinfectant wipes, hand sanitizer and boxes of tissues, as part of its second annual Back to School Bash School Supply Drive. All items went to United Way to be distributed to local families and schools in need.
Sesame Place Philadelphia has been working with United Way since 2013, participating in the organization’s annual holiday initiatives and Stuff the Bus events.
Guests who donated a new backpack 17 inches or larger received $10 in Sesame Cash, and those who donated either four juice boxes or two classroom cleaning items received $5 in Sesame Cash.
“Last year, we collected more than 5,000 school supplies to help local families,” said Cathy Valeriano, park president of Sesame Place. “It’s amazing to see the community come together to help those in need, and we’re looking forward to working with United Way of Bucks County once again to give back to the community this year.”
“United Way of Bucks County is so grateful for the opportunity to partner with Sesame Place again this year,” said Sheri Ratner, impact director for United Way’s HELP Center. “This drive will ensure that we can provide kids throughout the county with the supplies they need to succeed in school. It truly shows the power of working together to make a positive impact.”
Samantha Bambino can be reached at email@example.com