Community Partners Working to Help Our Students

United, the United Way
Posted on 08/23/2018
Image of United Way's Stuff the Bus Event(Theresa Cottom writing for Ohio.com/Akron Beacon Journal)

United Way opened the doors of its new downtown location to more than 200 volunteers Wednesday in an effort to help out the city’s youngest residents.

The local nonprofit held its fourth annual Stuff the Bus Sort-a-Thon, where volunteers from local corporations and around the community filled thousands of backpacks with new school supplies.

The backpacks will be distributed to 21 of Akron Public Schools’ 28 elementary schools next week, just a few days after kids have returned to the classroom. Receiving schools were chosen based on which have the highest levels of need and lowest numbers of community partners.

“It’s so good to see everyone working together for such a great mission … It relieves the burden of worrying parents,” said volunteer Peggy Koblenzer of Akron.

The sort-a-thon has grown each year, but this year’s growth was significant. Local organizations this year collected more than 235,000 school supplies since July, while last year’s drive brought just 60,000 items — a 290 percent increase in just one year.

United Way gets supply lists from Akron Public Schools each year to fulfill those requests, which include pencils, notebooks, markers, supply boxes and backpacks. Volunteers also stuffed the backpacks with motivational phrases for students and financial aid information for their parents.

Organizations also collected supplies that weren’t outlined on the list that they will distribute to teachers to use in their classrooms, such as packs of paper.

The event growth came at the right time. United Way moved into its new, larger location in late July in the Sojourner Truth building at 37 N. High St., where it merged with Info Line Inc. to begin offering 2-1-1 and housing services.

Wednesday was the first time the organization could hold the sorting event on-site. In previous years, the event was held at a community center because of the size at their previous location at 90 N. Prospect St.

The new location “makes us feel connected to a different part of the city,” said Beth Boggins, the vice president of marketing and brand management for United Way. “It’s much more collaborative.”

United Way’s recent merger with other community organizations brought on nearly 60 new volunteers to be part of the packing process.

“We’re really excited,” said Joe Scalise, the director of housing for United Way who previously worked for Info Line. “We know with projects like this, our clients are going to be the ones benefiting from it.”

The effort also benefited this year from 13 organizations — Goodyear, Summa Health and ContiTech among them —holding their own sort-a-thons prior to United Way’s. Between the supplies collection and delivery to individual students, the endeavor will involve nearly 1,000 volunteers filling more than 7,350 backpacks.

Steere Enterprises is the drive’s participating sponsor.

On Wednesday, volunteers spent most of the morning sorting through the collected supplies.

In the afternoon, volunteers rotated in and out of the building in a constant cycle of grabbing colorful backpacks, walking through a line of people handing out supplies, then passing the filled bags off to be packed into boxes and stacked neatly on top of one another.

Boggins said the event fulfills one of the organization’s “Bold Goals” that it set last year, which is to improve third-grade reading levels.

Jim Mullen, the president and CEO of United Way, said growing the event has been a goal from the beginning.

“We’re not done until we completely blanket the Akron Public Schools district with backpacks,” Mullen said.

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