Piles of backpacks ready to be given to students. Photo courtesy of Krystal Lomanto.
Piles of backpacks ready to be given to students. Photo courtesy of Krystal Lomanto.

This article was written by BenitoLink intern Marisa Sachau

School will soon be back in session and preparations are underway for obtaining school supplies. United Way and San Benito County work together every year to host its Stuff the Bus event, where backpacks full of supplies are given away to students. 

Before the “stuffing” begins, donations are collected from July 1 through Aug. 6. Each $25 donated purchases one backpack of school supplies. 

An average of 1,500 backpacks are stuffed with binders, crayons, erasers, pens, pencils, notebooks and rulers by volunteers. This year approximately 2,000 backpacks were given to students of San Benito County. 

San Benito County United Way Coordinator Vicki Fortino has been a part of the organization since 2012. Her first year with the organization was when the Stuff the Bus began. 

SBC United Way launched its Stuff the Bus campaign, after former United Way board member and retired teacher Diane Barr saw similar efforts taking place in Monterey and Santa Cruz counties. She said she thought it would be a great way to support the county youth who need school supplies. 

United Way’s partnership with the San Benito County Office of Education has enabled parents to communicate with schools whether their children are in need of school supplies.

“For 10 years now, it’s been a very strong partnership between the County Office of Education,” Fortino said. “Krystal Lomanto was a driving force with getting the school districts involved and getting them to attend. So that really made the difference in turning into an in-person event.”

Each year volunteers from all different organizations have offered support, from the Rotary Club of Hollister barbecuing hot dogs for the kids and their families to the Hollister High School cross country team helping to stuff the backpacks. 

“Every year I am amazed by the generosity and support of our community,” said Barr.

Each school district provides a list of names prior to the event to ensure that all will receive a backpack. Those students were able to choose their own backpack on Aug. 6 in the Target parking lot at 1790 Airline Highway. 

All money donated is used to buy supplies and backpacks for students; United Way does not keep any of it, said Fortino. 

“It’s always been a United Way initiative that our community really seems to get behind,” said Fortino. “They love that it’s not a fundraiser, strictly an initiative to send kids back to school prepared.”

On average, there are about 100 volunteers every year who help out. 


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