By MEGAN HUSSEY
For more than a decade, the United Way of Hernando County has hosted community Stuff the Bus events; programs that challenge residents to donate the much-needed school supplies that will empower needy children to have a successful scholastic experience.
Every year, this event successfully stocks up to nearly 200 classrooms, usually resulting in more than 8,000 pounds in supplies collected and close to $10,000 donated to purchase additional items to fulfill teacher Wish Lists.
In past years, contributors brought their donations to school buses parked in front of community businesses; allowing them to most literally 'stuff a bus' with a multitude of essential school supplies. Yet in the wake of a global pandemic, the Stuff the Bus experience is discovering a new route online this year.
United Way of Hernando County’s 14th Annual Stuff the Bus will be conducted virtually throughout the month of July. This year's bus will be parked on the Internet, giving donors the opportunity to shop online for nearly 13,500 school supplies needed for Hernando classrooms. These supplies include pencils, glue sticks, paper, crayons, folders, markers, calculators, pens, dictionaries, pencil sharpeners, rulers, notebooks, scissors, and even gift cards for these supplies.
"United Way of Hernando County has hosted Stuff the Bus for the past 13 years over the summer to support local classrooms. This event is such a popular community favorite that United Way knew it was too important to cancel our 14th Annual Stuff the Bus," said Dominique Holmes, Community Outreach Director of United Way of Hernando County. "So, United Way of Hernando County adapted without skipping a beat. Moving to a virtual event allows the community to still purchase school supplies online and support the cause."
In order to participate in this year's Stuff a Bus program, follow this simple step-by-step process:
1. Shop now through the end of July at www.Roonga.com/StuffTheBusHernando
2. In August, United Way will receive a shipment of purchased items.
3. Based on the quantities received, each Hernando school will receive a personal delivery from the United Way, one that contains appropriate supplies for different grade levels.
4. When the school year begins, teachers will stock up their classrooms with the vital tools that their students need to succeed.
Donors also have the option to purchase school supplies in person at participating Hernando Publix and Walmart stores during the month of July, depositing all purchased items into Stuff the Bus drop boxes posted at these businesses.
“Amidst this pandemic, local classrooms will be able to stock up on supplies so children won’t need to borrow or share a pencil or a notebook,” said Angie B. Walasek, United Way of Hernando County’s Executive Director, in a related news release.
By supporting Stuff the Bus, citizens can help Hernando children by giving them the tools to succeed this upcoming school year.
“Now more than ever, local classrooms will need the community’s help,” said Angie B. Walasek, United Way of Hernando County’s Executive Director, in a related news release.
Yet also now more than ever, organizers worried about the potential health and safety issues that might impact this year's collection effort.
“Our United Way received over 150 teacher survey responses touching on safety precautions, volunteer abilities, and options for this anticipated event,” Walasek explained in the news release. “Although some were still willing to participate there were many with concerns around social distancing at a store or someone not wearing a mask even out in the heat.”
Ultimately, though, organizers realized that this year more than ever, the bus must run; fulfilling United Way’s mission "to mobilize resources and continue to support Hernando schools."
"We believe our Stuff the Bus effort fills a gap by providing tools necessary for children who may come to school unprepared, classrooms who need additional supplies, and for teachers who have exhausted resources and their personal budget; we simply can’t NOT have it," Walasek said in the news release. "United Way is determined to still help our schools, so we made it even easier to participate at the click of a button. There is so much uncertainty surrounding this pandemic that we want to be prepared for when classrooms are back in session whether that be at the end of the summer or late fall.”
United Way of Hernando County’s Virtual Stuff the Bus event is now live.
Start shopping by visiting www.Roonga.com/StuffTheBusHernando or check out the United Way website at www.UnitedWayHernando.org/StuffTheBus to learn more about this education initiative.
Because now more than ever, says Holmes, "Now is the time for our community to band together and support education."