For the past 12 years, Frederick County residents have watched as big yellow buses rolled through neighborhoods in the summer to pick up school supplies and literally stuff their interiors to the brim.
The “Stuff the Bus” campaign organized by United Way of Frederick County in partnership with Frederick County Public Schools has traditionally been a way for the community to help local students in need.
“It’s an effort to ensure that every child has the tools and supplies necessary to be successful in school,” Ken Oldham, CEO of United Way, said.
In past years, United Way has been able to partner with more than 120 businesses and workplaces around the county in order to collect supplies, Oldham said. Offices would set up collection bins in their lobbies and retail stores would allow customers to make monetary donations to the campaign with their purchases.
With most offices and stores closed this year, United Way was only able to partner with four businesses for in-person drop-offs – Dublin Roasters, FCB Bank, Plow & Hearth and The Seton Center.
Due to this lack of physical space to hold the drive, a majority of it has moved online, Oldham said.
United Way partnered with Roonga, an organization that helps nonprofits collect items and hold drives online.
Those wishing to donate to Stuff the Bus can visit the United Way page of Roonga’s site and either select items they wish to purchase for donation or select a monetary amount and have Roonga pick items that add up to that value.
Donors can also create a team and host a drive with their family, co-workers, church, book club or any other local community group.
Supplies that are purchased through the site will be delivered directly to United Way, which will sort and organize the items in August and deliver them to schools.
Each FCPS school identifies students who are in need of the supplies, Oldham said, adding that this year, they anticipate a need of about 90,000 school supplies.
School Superintendent Terry Alban said Stuff the Bus will be more important than ever this year due to the various challenges arising from COVID-19.
“First, the economic impact on families has been significant and so more students will need help,” Alban said. “Secondly, we need to limit the sharing of materials between students and so having individual supply packs will be essential.”
Oldham also said that United Way made sure the items on Roonga were all very basic supplies that students across grade levels could use – this allows them, in the end, to serve as many children as possible.
The drive will end on Aug. 2. Oldham said he hopes people continue to donate this year in the same manner as before because more than anything, Stuff the Bus helps promote equity.
“At a time when we’re talking about diversity, equity and inclusion, Stuff the Bus is at its core an equity program,” Oldham said. “We’re ensuring that every child starts at the same place.”