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Stuff the Bus helps families meet needs

THIS YEAR'S STUFF the Bus initiative was record-breaking, with the United Way organizing and giving out almost 400 backpacks stuffed with new school supplies to students in need.

ADDISON COUNTY — Preparing for school at the end of summer break by purchasing backpacks and school supplies is an annual event for some, filled with excitement and anticipation for new beginnings.
But it’s not a realistic expectation for many kids in Addison County.
The cost of school supplies is not affordable for many families who are struggling financially.  United Way’s mission is to make sure the entire community is set up for success in every area that determines Addison County residents’ overall well-being, and that includes alleviating the financial strain of preparing the county’s children to learn.
In 2017, UWAC started giving away brand new backpacks stuffed with notebooks, pens, pencils, crayons, erasers, binders, folders and rulers, and (with the help of many volunteers) distributed them to elementary, middle and high school aged children throughout Addison County.  
Over the past three years, they have given out 788 backpacks to kids in need. 
 “This year has been record breaking,” explains Linnea Oosterman, UWAC’s Volunteer and Outreach Coordinator, who organized the latest effort. “In 2019 alone, we distributed 394 backpacks, more than tripling last year’s number, so I’m thrilled!”
The only requirement for receiving a free backpack is to be a student in elementary, middle or high school in Addison County.  “Not one student is turned away from this low-barrier program,” says Oosterman, “which is one of my favorite parts of Stuff the Bus. We want every student to start their school year off on the right foot and demonstrate that they are a valued member of Addison County.”
 By all accounts, the young recipients were pleased with their backpacks. John Graham Clinical Services Co-Director, Kate Schirmer Smith, reported that the colorful backpacks were a big hit: “The smiles on the children’s faces when we handed out their brand-new, snazzy, chuck-filled backpacks said it all! We are so very grateful!”
United Way has many people to thank who helped make this program possible, including numerous volunteers who helped to stuff and distribute the backpacks as well as donors who provided financial support. They are also thankful to the following locations that distributed public backpacks at sites throughout Addison County: Vergennes Congregational Church, H.O.P.E., CVOEO, and St. Ambrose Church among others. 
The team is already looking at ways to improve and increase their reach for next year!  Oosterman encourages people who would like to help with Stuff the Bus 2020 to contact her.
“It is clear there is a need in the community and the United Way of Addison County is proud to help fill this gap, so call me at 388-7189 if you’d like to help!”

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