By KAYLA J. MARSH
United Way of Monmouth and Ocean Counties has launched its annual “Stuff the Bus” school supply drive to meet the ever-growing demand for materials needed by children throughout the area.
The drive is designed to help ensure that children begin the school year right by having the tools they need to be successful.
“It’s been going on for a while,” said Kaarina Romero, director of Marketing and Communications for United Way of Monmouth and Ocean Counties.
“We used to have a different way of distributing funds, which we called an allocation process. It used to be we would distribute funds in small quantities, such as a few thousand dollars to about 50 or 60 agencies here in Monmouth County, when it was just United Way of Monmouth County.”
Recently, United Way of Monmouth County and United Way of Ocean County merged to create United Way of Monmouth and Ocean Counties.
The new organization has a combined 30-member board of directors, maintains its offices in Farmingdale and Toms River and jointly serves the residents of Monmouth and Ocean counties through partnerships addressing common goals in areas including education, income and health.
“We moved to a community-impact plan because we wanted to make more of an impact with our dollars, so we focused on a much smaller quantity of programs, and they would get a much more significant amount of money to really make an impact in education, income and health,” said Romero.
“Once we did that and started working with local schools, we thought that this would be a great opportunity to just further enhance our work in education by providing the schools directly with the school supplies to help relieve that burden on them.”
According to Romero, thanks to last year’s “Stuff the Bus” drive, more than 19,000 school supplies were distributed for local students.
“Anything that we can do to help relieve that financial burden [for] both teachers and parents is a huge help,” she said. “Last year we distributed over 19,000 items just in Monmouth County, so we always look to grow that every year, and the need is always growing.”
“Stuff the Bus” events, held from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day, will occur at several locations the next two weekends.
Shoppers can donate new school supplies to the drive on Aug. 5 at Walmart in Neptune, Aug. 6 at Walmart in Freehold and Manahawkin, Aug. 12 at Boscov’s at the Monmouth Mall in Eatontown, Aug. 13 at Walmart in Howell and Brick, and Aug. 14 at Walmart in Ocean Township.
Another event was held July 30 at Walmart in Lanoka Harbor.
“Providing these educational supplies helps support a child’s ability to learn while removing some of the financial burden from both parents and teachers,” said Timothy C. Hearne, president and CEO of United Way of Monmouth and Ocean Counties, in a press release.
“Donations from the ‘Stuff the Bus’ drive allow children to focus on their assignments instead of worrying about whether they have the tools to complete them.”
Much-needed school supplies include backpacks, colored pencils (boxes of 12), composition notebooks, construction paper, crayons (boxes of 24), erasers, folders, glue sticks, pencil sharpeners, pencils (boxes of 12), rulers, safety scissors, spiral notebooks and washable markers (boxes of eight).
“Often, the kids will get hand-me-down backpacks or not have a backpack at all, so those are definitely the most important and unfortunately the most expensive item, but we look to fulfill everything that they might need,” Romero said. “It’s really thinking about the community as a whole.
“You want your community to be the best that it can be, and you want the next generation to be able to have all of the resources [they need] … without these basic tools, children wouldn’t be able to focus on learning and education.
“In order to prepare the next generation to be successful in life, this is helping them do that and is giving children that might be disadvantaged a little more [of a] leveled playing field to have everything.”
During the drive, there is also an opportunity for volunteers who wish to give freely of their time.
“We usually have about 100 volunteers that participate in the drive, whether it’s at one of the store events helping to hand out flyers to shoppers to get the donations there or at our warehouse helping us count and sort all the donations,” Romero said.
“It is a great opportunity for kids to get hours that they may need for school or for their religious classes and things like that.
“Also, during the summer we accept volunteers ages 12 and up since they would normally be in school. Now that they are free during the summer, they have the time to participate, and it is a really great opportunity, and they get to see firsthand what it is like to give back and just feel like they are doing something to better the community themselves.
“We get so many repeat volunteers because they just feel so good about what they do.”
United Way of Monmouth and Ocean Counties works to improve the lives of residents in Monmouth and Ocean counties and advance the common good in education, income and health.
The organization partners with local nonprofits, businesses, governments, individuals and volunteers to build initiatives that create lasting change while encouraging others to give, advocate and volunteer for the benefit of the community.
To learn more visit www.uwmoc.org.