Three tons of backpacks. Four miles of crayons. Five miles of pencils. And those are just a fraction of the more than 222,000 school supplies donated throughout San Diego County in the third annual Stuff the Bus school supplies drive.
San Diegans reached deep into their wallets this summer, giving generously to the drive, which helps ensure that thousands of needy students were prepared to start the school year right.
The six-week Stuff the Bus campaign, conducted by the San Diego County Office of Education (SDCOE) and San Diego County Credit Union (SDCCU), benefits students experiencing homelessness. More than 22,000 school-age children were identified as homeless during the 2015-16 school year.
"As a parent myself and a longtime educator, I know the power of giving a child high-quality school supplies to kick-off the school year," said San Diego County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Paul Gothold. "Thanks to the San Diego County Credit Union, our Homeless Education Services team, and the generosity of the community, thousands of our local students will start the year ready to learn and succeed."
This year, Stuff the Bus filled the requests of 35 school districts and 18 charter schools. Homelessness affects all of San Diego County, from urban city centers to suburban school districts, from the mountains to the border to the coast. Homelessness for school-age children can mean living in a shelter, living in a car or trailer, or sharing a residence with other families.
Stephanie Johnston Austin, support services supervisor for SDCOE's Momentum Learning schools, said she distributed backpacks to all Momentum Learning offices and school sites. "We have students experiencing homelessness at some point at every location," Austin said. "Homelessness impacts us everywhere."
The Stuff the Bus campaign's impact is widespread thanks to its many forms of outreach, including an online component, collection bins at SDCOE and SDCCU sites, iHeartRadio promotions at several local Walmart stores, and the signature feature – two wrapped school buses roaming the county collecting donations. Personalities from iHeartRadio stations Channel 93.3, Star 94.1, and JAM'N 95.7 hosted programming at several Walmart stops.
"We thank everyone who donated supplies for this year's Stuff the Bus and are in awe due to the overwhelming response of support," said Teresa Halleck, SDCCU president and CEO. "Once again, we collected a record number of school supplies, which will help set up thousands of students experiencing homelessness in San Diego for success in the new school year."
The massive task of sorting the hundreds of thousands of supplies and stuffing backpacks with grade-appropriate materials was covered by volunteers and employees from SDCOE, SDCCU, and local bag maker Vessel, which donated not only 1,500 backpacks, but also its Carlsbad warehouse space.
Organizers called the generosity of the community, including from local businesses, "astounding." Passion Planner returned for a second year to donate its high-quality planners, and Vessel brought Carlsbad sunscreen maker Coola on board as a supporter.
"The Stuff the Bus campaign exceeded our expectations! The combined efforts of our extraordinary partners, especially SDCCU, have helped us increase the support we provide to students experiencing homelessness countywide," said Dr. Michelle Lustig, SDCOE's director of foster youth and homeless education services. "The response to this effort was truly heartwarming. Our school districts and charter schools had filled backpacks ready for their students on the first day of school, which enables these vulnerable students to start the school year prepared."
By the Numbers
Supplies collected in the 2017 Stuff the Bus drive include:
6,437 Backpacks 85,896 Crayons 32,182 Pencils
25,320 Markers 10,484 Packs of paper/notebooks 5,197 Glue sticks
12,352 Mechanical pencils 12,532 Pens 5,197 Erasers
4,181 Pencil sharpeners 4,224 Highlighters 3,165 Subject folders
1,808 Passion Plan 2,036 Packs of color pencils 2,032 Binders
1,585 Scissors 1,583 Pencil pouches 1,583 Rulers
1,583 Index cards 2,664 Sunscreen tubes 50 Arts and crafts supplies