For the 16th year in a row, Lakota students and staff answered the challenge to “stuff the bus” with food items that Reach Out Lakota desperately needed to restock its shelves and serve a client base that continues to skyrocket.
The approximately 27,500 donations resulting from this school year’s district-wide food drive almost exactly met the 2022 record-breaking total, which was 45 percent higher than the year prior and came during a year when pantry visits were trending 32 percent higher than the year prior. In 2023, the relief organization’s visits are once again topping their 2022 visits by another 33 percent.
“We are incredibly grateful for the support of the Lakota school board in its continued support of Stuff the Bus,” said Brenda Yablonsky, the director and CEO of Reach Out Lakota. “We want to thank every school building’s leadership, students and families who devoted time and money to execute this massive food drive. Your donations go directly to helping hundreds of local families who are struggling to make ends meet and providing them with hope for a better tomorrow.”
This year’s district campaign, which kicked off around the same time as the East vs. West football game, played off the friendly competition of this long-standing Lakota tradition. A special kick-off video featuring the Thunderhawk and Firebird mascots put a fun twist on the rivalry and reminded the community of the spirit behind #WEareLakota leading into the food drive. A blooper reel followed halfway through the drive, reminding Lakota students, parents and staff to not “drop the ball” for Reach Out Lakota. Pictured at right is one of the stuffed buses.
With student leadership groups at the helm of most schools’ collections and campaigns, students are historically the driving force behind the drive’s overall success. Such was the case this year at Independence Elementary School, where the prize of just 10 minutes of extra recess to the top collecting grade level was enough to generate over 4,300 donations (pictured above).
For that, Independence maintained its spot as the top collecting school and the owner of the traveling trophy for at least another year.
“The energy level built throughout the days we were collecting,” said Independence counselor Amy Moorman, who challenged the school’s “Team Inspire” sixth-graders to lead the charge. Collection boxes labeled by grade in the main foyer during arrival, paired with a whiteboard in the cafeteria that displayed the latest totals, fueled the friendly competition.
“When the third grade students saw their winning total as they walked into lunch on the last day, they had a huge celebration,” Moorman recalled. “We are so happy to be able to help the Lakota community in this way!”
VanGorden Elementary took a similar approach, pinning grade levels against one another for a movie and popcorn party, ultimately bringing in over 2,500 items. “We had our Math Accelerated (MAC) students count the number of items each Thursday. Their counting skills were definitely creative and it was fun to see how their brains worked!” said VanGorden Principal Julie Engelbert.
A different kind of grade level competition led by the student council over at Hopewell Junior School promised the winning grade level a different kind of experience. The eighth-graders, led by Principal Jeff Rouff, came in just shy of the seventh grade total, forcing Rouff to spend a day at school in a Pittsburgh Steelers jersey (pictured at right).
In other schools like Wyandot Early Childhood School, the drive literally became an extension of their classroom learning. Second grade teachers saw it as an opportunity to reinforce skills learned across multiple social studies units while giving students an opportunity to apply their learning and take ownership of the effort. Each class adopted a kindergarten and first grade class to team up with for the drive. They created collection bins, flyers and posters and even used their math skills to count the donations that came in for their class and partner classes.
“This project was an amazing way to show how we can work together to meet community needs and wants,” shared the second grade team in a school newsletter. In the end, Wyandot contributed over 3,400 to the district-wide total.
“Thank you to everyone who supported our recent Stuff the Bus food drive to benefit Reach Out Lakota! It’s clear that our community is all in to help our neighbors," said Lakota Superintendent Elizabeth Lolli.
Lakota’s “Stuff the Bus” is the largest annual collection for the primary relief organization serving families in West Chester and Liberty townships. It hits during a time when the shelves are emptying out from the summer rush. In 2022, the organization gave out over 266,000 meals to about 9,000 individuals. That’s the equivalent of about 319,000 pounds of food valued at over $571,000. Furthermore, more than 50 percent of those individuals receiving assistance were children living within Lakota’s boundaries.
- school board