The new school year is fast approaching, and our kids are getting excited. Many of them have already started their back-to-school shopping. With a dizzying speed, they zoom through store aisles with a very specific goal. To find that special piece of school gear that will wow their friends. It is a fun back-to-school tradition seen throughout our communities.
However, the start of school can be a very different experience for kids struggling to find stable housing. Often these children are going to a new school. With teachers and classmates, they don’t know. To make matters worse, most won't even have the basic supplies they need. Sadly, these children won't be impressing their new classmates with the treasures they found.
But thanks to the United Way’s Stuff the Bus program, we are changing the back-to-school experience for thousands of unhoused children in our communities. Launched in 2010, the program provides new backpacks filled with school supplies to children who otherwise might struggle in school without the supplies needed to be successful.
Lynda Patrick serves as the Vice President of Resource Development for the United Way of Monterey County. She says it is their goal to distribute 4500 backpacks to children who are unsheltered, living in cars, or sharing crowded rooms with family or friends because they lost their home. “For some of these children the backpack they are given is the only thing they own,” she said. “For them, it isn’t just a backpack, it is a place to store the few special items they have.”
This year, Valley Health Plan (VHP) became a major sponsor of Stuff the Bus - Monterey County. It is through sponsorships with community partners like VHP and individual donations given throughout the year that the United Way can purchase the school supplies and backpacks.
Earlier in July, VHP employees joined dozens of other volunteers to assemble the backpacks. Working side-by-side with other members of the community, VHP staff was not only able to meet many amazing new people but they got the satisfaction of seeing exactly how their efforts would impact the children who received the backpacks.
According to President and CEO of the United Way of Monterey County, Katy Castagna, it is the hands-on nature of the program that makes it so special. She says many people in the community want to help children succeed in school, but they don’t know where to start. The Stuff the Bus program provided "a bridge to community members who care about the students and families in need," she told us. "Stuff the Bus is a wonderful way to bring together the caring support of community.”
Watch the entire interview with Katy Castagna https://youtu.be/DEJw8P2EkdU
Learn more about the program from Donna Smith, the Coordinator for Homeless Children and Youth for the County of Monterey Office of Education https://youtu.be/am7IWuNn4Gg
Stuff the Bus is not exclusive to Monterey County. Local United Way chapters throughout the Bay Area run a Stuff the Bus program. If you would like to become a sponsor or make a donation where you live, find your local United Way office and give them a call.