This time of year, anyone who buys school supplies for their kids knows the lists are long and the bank account can come up short. A solution is available, though, to North Branch area families in the form of a big, yellow bus.
Brett Carlson, North Branch Area Public Schools Community Education director, answered our questions about the “Stuff the Bus” program that collects donated school supplies and gets them into the hands of those who need them most.
The bus took in donations during “Night to Unite” in Central Park on Aug. 6.
How did the district determine there was a need for school supplies?
There was always the unscientific knowing that not every student has new school supplies. There wasn’t anything where we said, “Oh, we have ‘X’ percentage or ‘X’ amount of students short on school supplies.’ We just know that there’s always that need.
You can imagine just how proud and excited a child is to walk into school with brand-new school supplies. I know for some people that sounds like something so silly because, thankfully, they can afford it. But if someone can’t afford it, that’s really not a great feeling.
How did you come up with “Stuff the Bus?”
I’ve seen lots of other school districts around the metro doing this as I looked on social media. I thought, ‘Well, why don’t we do this?’ It seems like a pretty simple and easy thing for people to participate in. You’re buying your own kids or grandkids school supples, so grab a couple extra folders and markers. If everybody does that, it stuffs the bus pretty fast.
Is there criteria a child must meet to utilize the supplies?
No, there’s not. It is really just need. It’s designed for everybody, and it’s not a program for Free and Reduced Lunch. If a kid needs a set of markers or crayons or whatever it might be, we just help them out.
Is it staff who recognizes a need or is it the child who asks?
It’s probably some of both. I work with school principals, social workers, counselors, whomever is on the ground level working with families and kids that might know that so-and-so might need a new set of markers or some new books.
Are supplies available to all schools?
All the way through, yes. The need is probably most great at Sunrise and the middle school, but if a high school staff person said, “We need a couple new folders or notebooks or a set of pens for high school,” absolutely. We’ll even supply Early Childhood students.
Are the supplies available year-round?
Yes, it’s not always the need immediately in September. It’s sometimes later in the school year – January, February, March – kids need new supplies.
Or when a student moves in, school supplies aren’t at the forefront of that transition, so it’s being able to have supplies on hand, on demand there for students that are readily accessible for all of our kids in all of our buildings.
After starting in 2017, the past two years the bus has been in Central Park for “Night to Unite.” How has that affected response?
I think the response was just as great. People were just as willing to donate and to stop by. Really, it’s a community event. We want everybody to feel that they can participate.
We thought, “It makes sense to make it on Night to Unite – let’s unite around giving some school supplies and helping out.” It’s a good event to bring the community together.
What criteria do you use to determine “success?”
We just used seats the first time, and we literally stuffed the bus – every seat had school supplies in it. I know food drives do a certain amount of pounds. We don’t do that, it’s just, “Let’s just get stuff in every seat.” We’ve been able to do that!
Do you need any particular supplies donated more than others?
I think we feel okay not putting any parameters. We do encourage people to visit the school website and find the links on there to supply lists. You can never have too many markers, crayons, notebooks, folders.
I haven’t come across anything that’s like, “Oh, I wish we had these donated.” That just speaks to how generous people have been to make sure they are getting all of those different items on the lists.
Anything else you want the public to know about “Stuff the Bus?”
If people still want to donate, they can drop items off at the Community Ed office (38705 Grand Avenue). We’re more than happy for their generosity. People can donate throughout the year. There’s always a need for that.
I love that our community – both our businesses and our individuals – support the program and rally around people that aren’t as fortunate as them and are willing to help out.