United Way's Stuff the Bus delivers schoool supplies to students

Hundreds of people donated thousands of supplies to local kids through United Way’s 11th annual Stuff the Bus school supply drive.

Great Falls givers donated more than 9,000 items and $9,000, which was used to buy even more supplies to give to local students through nonprofits like the Great Falls Rescue Mission, Alliance for Youth, the Great Falls Children's Receiving Home and through Great Falls Public Schools.

Over the past 11 years, United Way has built Stuff the Bus school supply drive into a citywide effort that provides nearly 15,000 supplies to local kids in need through nonprofits and Great Falls Public Schools.

“COVID-19 will have double impact on this year's drive,” United Way of Cascade County Marketing Director Kim Skornogoski said. “The supplies are more needed than ever, yet with so many employees working from home and so many people doing their best to stay home, we know that getting supplies donated will be a challenge.”

The supplies come from both business drives and individuals shopping at Target on Stuff the Bus day who pick up extra items to give to local students. The event wouldn't be possible without the help of Big Sky Bus Lines. This year to reduce the pressure on school administrators and staff, Big Sky delivered supplies to all 20 GFPS schools.

Many businesses adapted their annual drives as many employees are working from home. While about a third fewer items were donated this year, cash donations more than doubled.

Sletten Construction, Pacific Steel & Recycling, Montana Credit Union and Northwestern Energy made generous donations that enable us to shop locally for supplies.

Pasta Montana did a company-wide supply drive, donating a truck full of supplies. DA Davidson Company employees collected items and raised $800. Scheels donated 40 backpacks. Great Falls Clinic donated 200 child-size masks. Alluvion Health and Wendt Advertising both ran supply drives.

Even with these donations, the Great Falls teachers spend an average of $300 on school supplies to help kids in their classrooms, according to a United Way survey of local teachers.

Two in five local students live in poverty. Great Falls Public Schools has nearly 400 homeless students and another 600 students are in foster care. All but one of our schools has a food pantry or fills backpacks with food for kids to take home on the weekends.

“Many of our kids need more than crayons and calculators,” Skornogoski said. “We know that if students don’t have shampoo to wash their hair, or have a toothache from not brushing their teeth, they can’t focus as well in the classroom.”

People who missed Stuff the Bus can contact the United Way office at 727-3400 and the nonprofit will arrange to get school supplies where they are needed.