Volunteers turned out at Liberty Center on Wednesday to fill a bus full of donated school supplies to help needy school families in the Lakota district.
Classes are still a few weeks away from starting at the 17,000-student school system, which is the largest in Butler County and ninth biggest in Ohio, but with inflationary costs rising many families are already scrambling to get supplies for their school-age children.
The annual “Stuff The Bus” campaign is a summer break staple for Lakota and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center in Liberty Twp. and other community partners each year in collecting donated learning items and then inviting the public to fill the school bus parked at the Liberty Center.
The donations go to both Lakota students and Cincinnati Children’s patient families in need.
Michelle Hopkins, community engagement consultant for Cincinnati Children’s, said cost inflation is wide-spread and impacting students from low-income families.
“We know this is a tough economy right now,” said Hopkins. “We’re making sure parents have a little bit more help in getting their kids back to school.”
“We’re making sure they have back packs full of school supplies. We’re trying to do our part and we’re bringing a lot of community partners together.”
The donated supplies went beyond the traditional classroom supplies, she said.
“Teachers have told us the kids need (audio) ear buds, tissues and they need hand sanitizer. We do have some pencils but mostly zip-lock bags and those kind of things they may not come to school with but we have them here today.”
Adding to the financial stress for school district is the on-going COVID-19 pandemic and its sweeping and often sharp increases in school operating expenses since its onset in March 2020.
Lakota officials have previously said they are using some of its federal ESSER (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief) monies, provided to districts nationwide to help offset school pandemic costs, toward getting needy students learning supplies.
Betsy Fuller, spokeswoman for Lakota Schools, said more was donated this year compared to last.
“Our second annual Stuff the Bus event was a great success. We’re so grateful to our partners at the Cincinnati Children’s Liberty Community Advisory Committee for hosting this event. The generosity of the partners and our community members is humbling,” said Fuller.
This year saw 800 backpacks and donations, exceeding last year’s total of 600.
“We look forward to handing out the backpacks to our students,” she said.
Photojournalist Nick Graham contributed to this story.