Stuff The Bus Ensures Students Are Prepared for Future Success

The annual Stuff the Bus school supply drive hosted by United Way of 1000 Lakes in partnership with the community showcases the power of compassion and collaboration, touching the lives of countless students and embarking on a new year of learning.

Now in its third year with the organization, the program surpassed the prior year’s impact, with more than 300 backpack requests by mid-August. By providing the tools students need to succeed, including headphones, binders, pens, and pencils, the program is just one of the ways the organization is working to address equity in our community.

“Our donors, volunteers, and community partners are vital to the program’s success,” executive director Kim Brink Smith said. “They are the driving force behind the initiative’s success and our work to lift the whole family towards economic mobility.”

Throughout July and August, United Way and its drop site partners encouraged community members to help collect school supplies and assemble backpacks to ensure kids are ready to learn on the first day of school.

For example, Target hosted Stuff the Bus events, where employees and volunteers collected school supplies, and Walmart donated supplies valued at $9,500. The program also received a $2,000 Walmart’s Spark Good grant to help with program expenses.

As inflation continues to impact local families, requests more than doubled from the preceding year, and the organization had to cap its registration period to keep pace with the demand. Overall, the program saved 168 families approximately $19,000 on back-to-school supply costs.

“Our goal is to meet the need,” Community Impact Coordinator Molly Hiipakka said. “Donations fluctuate. Supply chain and shipping challenges are increasingly difficult to manage. It’s a challenge every year, but our community came through to support our students.”

The Stuff the Bus program serves Grand Rapids, Bigfork, Greenway, Deer River, Hill City, Nashwauk, and Keewatin communities by equipping area students with backpacks filled with grade-appropriate supplies.

The initiative is part of United Way’s Ready Kids, Resilient Families impact pillar, supporting children and families throughout the entire educational process through a multigenerational approach. By offering services that simultaneously support children and adults in their lives, these programs are shown to accelerate education and economic outcomes for the entire family.

Residents interested in supporting the program are invited to visit United Way’s store wish lists at Target or Amazon to purchase needed school supplies or donate at or text Lakes to 26989. For more information about United Way programs, contact Kim Brink Smith, United Way of 1000 Lakes Executive Director, at 218-999-7570.