It was a Stuff the Bus event unlike any other on Saturday.
The annual fundraiser and school supplies drive was still conducted in the parking lot of Bluegrass Cellular on Campbell Lane with people bringing donations, volunteers to take those donations and Stuff the Bus founder Tony Rose to greet and thank everyone.
But in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, Stuff the Bus felt a little different with contactless drop-offs, everyone wearing a mask and group photos replaced by socially distanced selfies.
It was all part of a Stuff the Bus bubble that WDNS (D-93) FM radio personality Rose wanted to create to assure the event, now in its 15th year, went off without a hitch.
“We had no idea what we were getting ready to walk into, doing an event like this in a pandemic world,” Rose said. “Our mission statement as a foundation is to create a level playing field for all kids on that first day of school no matter what the first day of school may look like now.”
“We don’t know if it is going to be in person, all the way virtual, who knows? To provide the essential tools for whatever that first day is like, that is why we are here today.”
Rose said he had to adapt and evolve as doing the event, which historically has been a very hands-on event and has historically signaled the kickoff of a new school year – something that is not 100 percent certain this year.
“That’s what is great about Stuff the Bus,” Rose said.
“Symbolically over the last 15 years, this event shows that it is time to start back to school. Again, who knows what that first day is going to look like? Who knows when it is going to be?,” Rose said.
“But it is at least going to put it on the people’s radar that they are doing Stuff the Bus and they are doing something for the community. The community is coming together in a safe environment to make sure we do everything we can to provide that level playing field.”
In addition to the contactless drop-off technique there were other elements in place to assure a safe event.
All supplies that were donated were cleaned before they were put on the bus, an extra step since the supplies will be sanitized again when they are donated to schools.
All volunteers were screened on arrival, including temperature check, and face masks were worn at all times.
Those who wished to donate had other options as well with online donations and a telethon number set up for anyone wishing to donate from a distance.
Rose said he was pleased with the response from the community.
“We are seeing a lot of smiles even though they are behind face masks,” Rose said. “This is in a lot of ways a reunion for us every single year … seeing members of the community that have come out here for 15 years.
“Their kids have grown up knowing about Stuff the Bus. Our kids have grown up knowing about Stuff the Bus. It’s part of their DNA,” Rose said. “It’s why I thought it was so important to have this event this year.”
Rose estimated the event raised $30,000 to be allocated for scholarships and grants to schools to make sure they have supplies and tools they need in addition to two buses filled with supplies – including 15,000 face masks – and nonperishable food items that were donated on site.
“It blows me away to see this community, even in the eye of a pandemic, is still able to come out and give and give and give and do it in a safe and responsible way,” Rose said.
Rose added while the event may be one day, the foundation’s work doesn’t stop with Saturday’s drive.
“This is our Super Bowl,” Rose said. “This is our Wrestlemania, but we are 12 months a year.
“Every single month the Stuff the Bus Foundation awards thousands of dollars in grants to classrooms and to teachers through our website, stuffthebusky.com. In 2019 we awarded $30,000 in grants, take away the pencils and the crayons, just in money and scholarships. This year, today alone, we are going to award $30,000 to kids in classrooms. Who knows? By the end of 2020 it could be up to $50,000-$60,000 that we award back to our schools and that is all due to this community. Even during a pandemic, they have joined together to help level the playing field.”