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HomeAt Home & BeyondCommunity Service Projects focus on school supplies & buses

Community Service Projects focus on school supplies & buses

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Studies reveal that concerned teachers spend an average of $750 of their own funds annually on classroom supplies and needs. Two major community service efforts in Hernando County are striving to ensure that all teachers, and students have the tools they need to succeed next school year.

Although there is no designated bus featured in United Way of Hernando County’s 16th Annual Stuff the Bus event, there is a whole lot of heart. In an effort to streamline their supply distribution to Hernando teachers, United Way will conduct Stuff the Bus on Thursday, July 7th through Friday, July 15th. This will take place at all eight Hernando Publix Stores by way of internal school supply collections conducted at each store, collections organized at check-out or the display tables and collection bins posted at Publix.

“A recent community survey reported that Stuff the Bus is the most well-known program United Way offers, stocking over 100 local classrooms with needed supplies each year,” shared United Way of Hernando County Executive Director, Angie B. Walasek. “Although teacher wish lists will not be collected this year and volunteers will not be utilized in front of the stores, United Way will be distributing all collected supplies at the Hernando County School’s ‘Welcome Back Kickoff’ for teachers at Crosspoint Church on August 3rd.”

Walasek stated, “We have close to 1,600 teachers in our Hernando School system and this is exactly why this event remains a priority for our team. If we can alleviate even the slightest cost burden for a teacher by providing folders, a backpack, or composition notebooks so they can in return provide them to a student who’s in need of the basics, then that is exactly what we’ll continue to do.”

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The public is encouraged to purchase school supplies that include pencils, pens, colored pencils, crayons, copy paper, markers, index cards, highlighters, calculators, erasers, rulers, folders, composition books, dictionaries, and much more. For a complete list, visit https://www.unitedwayhernando.org/StuffTheBus-supply-list. Donate these supplies at any Publix Store in Hernando County, or drop off to the United Way of Hernando County office at 4028 Commercial Way, Spring Hill.

But where’s the bus? The usual school bus parked in the parking lot of each Publix location, stuffed full of school supply donations, is absent from this year’s Stuff the Bus school drive. “Thanks to our amazing partnership with Publix, internal collections will work just fine. That yellow school bus, though, is iconic and is the staple to this event, but these are different times,” Walasek explained. “We’re fortunate to work hand in hand with our School Transportation Department and I’m here to promote that they are in desperate need of bus drivers, attendants, and mechanics. Our bus drivers usually volunteer their time each year to drop off the buses at each store and even help sort supplies, but there is barely anyone left.”

Angie Walasek continued, “We’re not here to stretch them thin during the summer, we’re here to promote their hiring and recruitment efforts. Similar to not having the appropriate classroom tools, this too is an unmet need that will impact our students.” Indeed, more school bus drivers are greatly needed here in Hernando County.

“The staffing shortages we see affecting so many businesses is also having a direct impact on our transportation services,” said Hernando County Schools’ Director of Transportation, Ralph Leah. “To transport more than 9,000 students each day, we need 125 drivers, 42 attendants and 10 mechanics. Right now, we have 37 open driver positions, 7 open attendant positions and 6 open mechanic positions. Without more drivers, attendants and mechanics, we simply won’t be able to offer the same customer service our parents and students have come to expect.”

Interested applicants for these positions should visit the Hernando County School Board website at HernandoSchools.org or call the Transportation Department at 352-797-7003. Paid CDL Training is included and full benefits are available.

More information on United Way of Hernando County’s Stuff the Bus can be found by visiting UnitedWayHernando.org/StuffTheBus. To easily donate online, visit UnitedWayHernando.org/GIVE.

The traditional school bus does play a major role in another school supply distribution effort, this one hosted by the Hernando County Education Foundation and the Hernando County Chamber of Commerce Leadership Hernando Class of 2022. As a class project, the Class of 2022 gifted the Foundation with a fully renovated and bedecked Hernando County school bus–plus an additional $3,000 for the purchase of supplies.

“This bus is a mobile classroom, filled with supplies for teachers, that will, as a part of the foundation’s Tools 4 Schools program, visit 30 plus schools each month so that teachers can board and grab the items they need free of charge,” said Jenn Monaco, class president of the Class of 2022 and senior event specialist at The Greater Hernando Chamber of Commerce.

The Class of 2022 cleaned, painted, wrapped and prepared the renovated bus. “This was a hands-on project,” said Monaco. “We got help from Ultima Graphix, which wrapped the bus, while Dynasty Collision fixed it up, free of charge.” This bus is set to be packed with crayons, pencils, markers, colored pens, staplers and staples, construction paper, notebook paper, rulers, and much more. “Teachers often take money out of their own pockets to buy needed school supplies for their students,” said Monaco. “And especially now, coming out of the pandemic, the need is great.” Those who wish to donate to Tools 4 Schools can bring school supply donations to the Back to School Bash at Crosspoint Church: July 23rd from 9 am- 12 pm the Back to School Event at Terlep Chiropractic: July 30th from 10 am-1 pm. “This is for the teachers,” said Monaco.

Megan Hussey
Megan Hussey
Megan Hussey is a features journalist and author who is the winner of Florida Press Association honors and a certificate of appreciation from LINCS (Family Support Domestic and Sexual Violence Prevention Task Force) and Sunrise Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Center for her newspaper coverage of these issues. She graduated cum laude from Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., with a journalism major and English/sociology minor, and previously wrote for publications that include the Pasco editions of The Tampa Tribune and Tampa Bay Times. A native of Indiana, she lives in Florida.
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