In these trying times, the donation of a school supply means an automatic ray of sunshine for a child in need. And for the 15th year in a row, United Way of Hernando County is gearing up to deliver much more sunshine to the pupils and teachers of Hernando County.
Last summer, and in the wake of a global pandemic, the United Way of Hernando County’s annual Stuff the Bus event overcame what seemed a major challenge: to adapt to a virtual platform for purchasing school supplies for Hernando classrooms.
With no in-person volunteering allowed to advertise this initiative and collect supplies, these basic essentials were limited for distribution. Yet thanks to a team effort with Hernando’s Publix Stores, which hosted internal supply drives and promoted the drive to customers, the drive proceeded as scheduled. And on August 19, 2020, United Way successfully completed a direct delivery of more than 4,195 lbs. of school supplies to all Hernando County Schools.
In 2021, United Way faces a new challenge: providing school supplies for students returning to the classroom this fall. On April 14, 2021, the Hernando County School District announced that the Digital Home Learning option for Hernando students will close this school year June 18. With pupils soon to return to classrooms, now more than ever teachers and students are in dire need of support.
“Teachers are an integral part of our community,” said United Way of Hernando County Executive Director Angie B. Walasek in a related news release. “Over the course of the pandemic, teachers everywhere have faced unexpected struggles with having to adapt in new and sometimes difficult ways, between both in-person and virtual learning platforms. We could never show enough appreciation for the work teachers accomplish, both academically and personally for students. Supplying them with items most needed for a successful school year is a start.”
United Way is prepared to meet the challenge, forging ahead to host their 15th Annual Stuff the Bus in-person at Hernando’s eight Publix Stores Friday, July 16, Saturday, July 17, and Sunday, July 18. “Since schools will be returning fully in person for the 2021-2022 school year, the need is greater than ever,” said Sam Beckham, Community Outreach Coordinator of United Way of Hernando County. “We know and appreciate how hard teachers have worked over the past year to adapt to the unexpected complications due to COVID-19, and we will do our best to stock them up with everything they need to have a successful school year.”
During Stuff the Bus weekend, teachers and volunteers will advocate for local classroom needs and collect school supplies and gift cards at store entrances and exits from 11am-5pm. For the safety of customers and volunteers, scannable QR codes will be incorporated on banners and signs, replacing the hand to hand distribution of supply wish list flyers in an effort to help enforce social distancing. Also for safety’s sake, the virtual component of Stuff the Bus will be maintained in 2021.
“We are mainly focusing on the July weekend (16th-18th)!” said Beckham. “Also, we will continue with the virtual component through Roonga where the community can shop online and donate supplies, which will be delivered to us prior to the start of the school year. The link to the virtual drive is www.roonga.com/15thStuffTheBus.”
Supplies and gift cards also can be dropped off anytime at the headquarters of United Way of Hernando County, 4028 Commercial Way, Spring Hill.
Any supplies can be dropped off at the United Way of Hernando County office Monday-Friday from 9am-5pm. A list of most needed items can be found by visiting the United Way of Hernando website. Some of the most needed items are: backpacks, pens, pencils, glue sticks, spiral and composition notebooks, crayons, 3 prong folders, and copy paper. All of the items collected from donors will be distributed to the teachers who volunteered their time for this event, in order to help prepare incoming students, “to be ready to learn and succeed in school.”
Hernando teachers are advised that Stuff the Bus Wish Lists are officially open. Visit the United Way of Hernando website to sign up to volunteer and complete a Wish List for desired items. Teachers who volunteer at least two hours over the Stuff the Bus weekend will qualify. If you are not a teacher but would like to volunteer your time for Hernando’s Stuff the Bus, please contact the United Way office to sign up for an available shift by emailing [email protected] or call 352-688-2026.
“Dedicated teachers and community members who are ready to advocate for the classrooms and are excited to help collect supply donations make the best volunteers! We like them to get creative with signs showcasing classroom needs,” said Beckham.
United Way issues a special thank you to United Way Partner in Education, HCA Oak Hill Hospital, for supporting this annual effort. And UW credits another community partner for their continuing support. “We loved having the internal Publix supply drives to help support Stuff the Bus last year. There may be some boxes at select locations throughout the month due to our amazing Publix stores getting creative for this annual event to help bring awareness to classroom needs,” said Beckham.
And the help is appreciated. “Teachers love it! This program allows them to stock their classrooms with school supplies for free for students in need. All they have to do is volunteer 2 hours of their time and fill out a wish list of desired school supplies. United Way tries their hardest to fulfill all Wish List items. Teachers use the supplies for projects and a ‘just in case’ stash for students who may come to school unprepared or can’t afford the items,” said Beckham.
Report your good news and good works to Hernando Sun community reporter Megan Hussey at [email protected] Show Us Your Sunshine!