Stuff the Bus Serves Thousands of Valley Students
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Thirteen years ago the United Way of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley received a call from Huntington Bank asking if it would have any use for some extra backpacks.
A little over a decade later, the partnership has expanded to help thousands of local students start the school year off on a more even playing field.
Sam Huston, market president of the Mahoning Valley region of Huntington Bank, said the company donates about 1,000 backpacks each year for the Stuff the Bus campaign.
“We love the opportunity to partner with some other local agencies in the Valley, and it’s a great community effort to put this together for the 2023 and 2024 school year,” he said.
Huston has been a part of the annual program since its launch.
“It just gets bigger and better every year,” he said.
Partnership volunteers attended the event Thursday to help pack the bags.
“If you think about when you were a young kid going to school, it is exciting to go to school prepared,” he said. “To have the materials that you need to learn – I think that is an opportunity to start kids off on the right foot as they start the school year.”
Bob Hannon, president of the United Way of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley, said the organization receives more phone calls and supplies every year.
“These children need these supplies,” he said. “Many of these children go to school without supplies, and we want to try to get them on an even playing field with their peers.”
Hannon said the campaign is very different from what it started as. He said the first year started with about 200 backpacks, which were not filled with supplies.
“Each United Way got maybe 50 backpacks,” Hannon said. “We said, ‘Let’s find a way to fill them with supplies.’”
United Way gained partnerships with Great Clips and Cocca’s Pizza to help raise money for supplies. Donors also drop off supplies at the United Way office, Hannon said.
“The growth and the awareness that we created with the amount of phone calls has really helped,” he said. “That’s been the biggest difference. The amount of backpacks and filling the backpack with supplies, I think, has really helped us be able to help more children.”
The United Way of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley will deliver backpacks to Girard, Liberty and Hubbard schools. Trumbull, Columbiana and Mercer counties will also deliver backpacks to the schools they work with.
Hannon said they work closely with the teachers at the individual schools to identify the need and what supplies are necessary. The main focus is students in kindergarten through sixth grade.
The need is only increasing, Hannon said.
“We know there is a need because the teachers tell us there is a need,” he said. “I think it is becoming more and more difficult, especially for parents of children in underserved communities. It’s difficult putting food on the table or gas in the car. Maybe school supplies aren’t on the top of that list.”
Oftentimes, the program supports multiple people from the same family.
Hannon said the program is one of the most impactful programs United Way hosts.
“I have been at the schools when they [the students] get the backpacks,” he said. “To me, the most rewarding part is to see the smile on that child’s face.”
Pictured at top: Sam Huston, market president of the Mahoning Valley region of Huntington Bank, and Lucas Rider, Huntington Bank financial advisor, pack backpacks.
Copyright 2023 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.