Help ‘Stuff the Bus’ for more than 5,500 Kent County students


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — As a second bus backed its way into a parking spot near the rear gymnasium entrance of Burton Elementary in Grand Rapids, a handful of volunteers eagerly waited in the hot sun for the doors of the stuffed bus to open.

The Heart of West Michigan United Way was out in two buses Thursday morning, driving to West Michigan businesses to collect items for its annual Stuff the Bus campaign.

Those businesses had been fundraising for or collecting donated items that would benefit students and teachers for the upcoming school year — things like backpacks, notebooks, pencils, calculators for the students and tissues, wet wipes, or paper towels for the teachers. The Kent School Services Network had school coordinators ask students, parents and teachers the items they needed most.

By the time the stuffed buses were empty, the gym at Burton Elementary was full.

“The Grand Rapids community is amazing,” Cinda Birely, the KSSN coordinator at Sparta’s Appleview Elementary School, said. “I think about the Sparta community, the businesses and the churches and the different partnerships and the community members and the chamber of commerce, and all those pieces together provide community. And they support our schools and in supporting our schools, they support our families. So very lucky.”

Birely said 50% of her student body are at-risk students. Being a part of Stuff the Bus for the last four years has been a huge benefit for not only their peace of mind, but also their self-esteem.

“We’re in the rural community and so one of the systemic problems that we’re dealing with is poverty. And so with Stuff the Bus, it provides school supplies for our students that wouldn’t normally be able to walk into school the first day and be equipped for the first day,” Birely said.

Janet Piccolo knows that problem. She works for KSSN at Burton Elementary. She said the anxiety of unknowns surrounding the upcoming school year is a problem for her students, teachers and parents.

“Stuff the Bus has been a critical impact on our families, especially post-quarantine, -COVID. That’s probably been one of the biggest sources of anxiety for our families and not knowing what their kids need, what students need to be successful, what they need to learn,” Piccolo said. “So having (Heart of West Michigan United Way), having this great city of Grand Rapids and our members here coming together to provide these supplies is astronomical.

“It helps take the pressure off of the students who have anxiety … that they’re going to be behind,” she continued. “It takes pressure off of the teachers thinking that they’re going to have to go to the store and spend some of their own hard-earned money to provide what they need in class. It takes pressure off parents.”

The volunteers from HWMUW and KSSN will now take all of the donations they picked up this week and sort them out based on item. They’ll stuff backpacks full of essential school supplies which will then be distributed to 10 area schools:

Stuff the Bus #2 2021 - United Way
  • Appleview Elementary
  • Burton Elementary
  • Townline Elementary
  • Campus Elementary
  • Alpine Elementary
  • Parkview Elementary
  • Dickinson Academy
  • Gerald R. Ford Academic Center
  • Godfrey-Lee (K-12)
  • Union High School

In all, more than 5,500 Kent County students will reap the reward of a generous community.

The call to give is not done. There are still six public drop-off sites for donations and monetary donations can be made online.

Or you can join the HWMUW on Saturday, Aug. 21 at Woodland Mall in Kentwood from noon until 2 p.m. for a “School Spirit Day” event. There will be marching bands, music, giveaways, a school spirit contest and organizers will be accepting public donations of school supplies. You can find a list of this year’s needs here.

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