Back to school success, one item at a time

A decorated, cardboard school bus sits in the office of the Junction City Area Chamber of Commerce awaiting donations of school supplies for local children as part of Stuff the Bus.

The 2020-21 school year is rapidly approaching and The United Way of Junction City-Geary County is working to ensure students with the Unified School District 475 Geary County Schools and Saint Francis Xavier School have all the supplies they need for a successful year.

The 11th Annual Stuff the Bus Campaign began Monday with support of area partner drop off locations (see flyer), members of the community can assist.

“Items can be dropped off at our office, as well as other locations in the community,” said Nichole Mader, executive director, United Way of Junction City-Geary County. “We do ask that everyone follows social distancing and the rules of each businesses. When taking donated school supplies to Walmart, supplies must be taken to the service desk specifying that it is for Stuff the Bus. We will not have our wooden buses out this year for safety reasons.”

Mader said the lasting effects of the COVID-19 pandemic make this year more important for the program.

“Given that most families are still financially impacted by shortened hours or temporary layoffs, most will not be able to afford the basic school supplies,” she said. “Some families may choose to have their child or children attend online, so that they do not have to purchase as many supplies. This is also a great way to show the students that even in times of crisis, they are still valued and their education is important.”

The collected items are counted, divided and delivered to the schools in the county before the first day of school so students can have any missing items they need.

“To accomplish a task or a goal, we want to ensure that we are properly equipped to take on that task or set goal,” Mader said. “It is the exact same for a student to have everything they need to accomplish that spelling test, that math test, history or whatever it is that they’re challenged with that day. You want to provide them with the appropriate tools and supplies needed to do that.”

Community members may also donate cash to the program if they don’t wish to do any extra shopping, Mader said.

“We will have donation jars on Saturday when we are at Walmart (10 a.m. to 3 p.m.),” she said. “They can also be dropped off at our office, or at one of the many donation jars in the community.”

Mader is also looking for volunteers that want to help separate the items. Those wishing to donate their time are encouraged to sign up on the United Way of Junction City-Geary County’s Facebook page,, and click on the post. Volunteers can also contact the United Way office at 785-238-2117.

There are restrictions in place to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19, Mader said.

Adopt a Backpack

Geary County residents who are struggling to get the school supplies can also apply for the United Way’s Adopt a Backpack Program.

The income-based program, allows residents with students in kindergarten through 12th grade in Geary County Schools or St. Francis Xavier to get the needed supplies based on the students supply lists.

“We get that child’s specific shopping list, and we go and get everything on their list,” Mader said. “We get them a backpack. We get their crayons, the notebooks, the headphones, the folders, the pencil pouch or the pencil box — everything that is on the list. And when I say ‘we,’ I mean the community, because we take these backpack applications out to different places in the community for people to adopt.”

Local businesses and organizations have adopted multiple backpacks in the past, which Mader said she is thankful for.

“It’s pride, pride in my community,” she said. “I’m very, very emotional. I won’t lie I’m a big softy and I am a crier — just how the community comes together. How you can be a stranger on the street and it doesn’t matter. (We) come together as a community to make this a better place.”

Families who apply will know within 24- to 48-hours if they have been approved, Mader said.

“We will set up time with them, the week of august of August 10, to have them come and pick up their backpack,” she said.

The program began three years ago when they were made aware of several families in extra need due to circumstances beyond their control.

“They for some reason or another, they needed everything on their list,” Mader said. “And so, we decided as a community supporter that OK, we have money that has been donated for Stuff the Bus. Let’s get these kids taken care of. And so we went out. United Way went out and purchased backpacks with all of their supplies.”

Last year, Mader said she opened the program up for the community and help more than 100 students.

“We were grateful for the opportunity to be able to do it,” she said. “The community was absolutely amazing and supportive. We had businesses and civic groups that had reached out and said hey, ‘We’ll take five backpacks, we’ll take 10 backpacks.’ And so that was just absolutely heartwarming and emotionally overwhelming. I don’t know what those numbers are going to look like (this year). I don’t know if they’re going to be more because of COVID or not.”

Mader said the programs — Stuff the Bus and Adopt a Backpack — are very much influenced by the community and business supporters.

“We would like to thank all of our business supporters for 11 years of friendship and partnership,” she said. “We would also like to thank the community for their continued support and dedication.”

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