Stuff the Bus drive continues Saturday

WESTFIELD – Starting the school year prepared puts children on an even playing field, especially when the child is homeless.
In order to ensure every student has what he or she needs on the first day of school, the United Way of Pioneer Valley has teamed up with the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority to Stuff the Bus with school supplies.
Debra Foley, senior marketing manager for the Pioneer Valley United Way, said the goal is to distribute 1,500 filled backpacks to students in Westfield, Holyoke, Springfield, Chicopee and West Springfield this fall.
“The United Way already purchased the backpacks.  We just need the supplies to fill them,” said Foley.
A school supply drive is set for this Saturday morning at the Holyoke Mall inside the  entrance to Target from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. Supplies needed include crayons, No. 2 pencils, pens, pencil boxes, highlighters, calculators, two-pocket folders, glue sticks, and single subject notebooks.
“What’s nice about this drive is that it’s tax-free weekend,” Foley noted.
This is the last big push to collect supplies, said Foley. A smaller collection will take place at the TD Bank at 1441 Main Street in Springfield on from 12-2 p.m.
“This is our last weekend to collect supplies because we are putting the backpacks together next week,” Foley said.
In Westfield, 75 students will receive the backpacks. A PVTA bus will deliver the backpacks throughout the region and will drop-off Westfield’s supplies to Franklin Avenue School. Foley said the United Way works with the McKinney-Vento coordinator in each school district to identify the number of children in need. Those coordinators act as a liaison and will deliver the backpacks to families.
The McKinney–Vento Homeless Assistance Act of 1987 is a United States federal law that provides federal money for homeless shelter programs. It was the first significant federal legislative response to homelessness, and was passed and signed into law by President Ronald Reagan on July 22, 1987. The act has been reauthorized several times over the years.  Each school in the district has its own McKinney-Vento coordinator, according to Foley.
The United Way worked with Peter Pan Bus Lines the past two years on the Stuff the Bus campaign, and is now working with the PVTA.
“Peter Pan is so good about helping the community and is so overwhelmed with requests that we only asked for a two-year commitment,” said Foley. The PVTA is partnering with us this year, which is great. They have been wonderful.”
Foley said many of the PVTA’s riders are homeless and the authority wanted to help.
“They have been at all the collections and will be instrumental in delivering the backpacks to school districts,” Foley said.
When the school supply lists are sent out for the upcoming school year, it can be daunting.
“They’re enormous,” said Foley. “Supplies can get expensive depending on how many kids there in a family. It’s so important that kids are prepared and they have what they need to start school.”
Foley said in addition to the PVTA, TD Bank, the Holyoke Mall and Chicopee Wal-Mart have been very generous supporters of the drive.
“TD Bank gave us space in our building to store the supplies and assemble the backpacks,” Foley said.
The backpacks, which were purchased in bulk, are black with colorful trim. Foley said it was important to get the best quality so they would last.
“They are really nice quality and have a place on the side for a water bottle, padded straps, double zippers and a couple of compartments,” said Foley.
Donations of cash will also be accepted at the remaining two drives.

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