For most Northeast Nebraska students, summer is all but over.
And while that can be a bit depressing for the kids, there’s often a bright spot in their preparations.
Back-to-school shopping helps set the tone for the upcoming year, and for some students, it’s something to really look forward to.
But what about the kids whose parents have trouble affording new backpacks, cool markers or even basic supplies?
Thankfully, the Stuff the Bus drive in Norfolk makes back-to-school shopping less anxiety-inducing for those parents and more fun for the kids.
Stuff the Bus, hosted by the Norfolk Family Coalition’s child well-being committee, provides new school supplies and book bags to low-income children in Northeast Nebraska.
Families who had previously applied for assistance through the Salvation Army and Midtown Health Center will be able to pick up school supplies at the Salvation Army this Saturday.
Maj. Kelli Trejo with the Salvation Army said 325 children registered for supplies this year, up from last year’s 251.
“We ended up serving 268 last year, because we do have some people who come in after the event. So the 325 number this year may even increase,” she said.
With school supplies and monetary donations coming from multiple organizations and community members, Kelli Trejo said she expects there to be enough supplies on hand for everyone who applied.
“The Stuff the Bus committee does a great job of knowing how much is needed. So on Wednesday, they went shopping for anything they were missing so that each child will have what they need going back,” she said.
At the actual distribution on Saturday, parents with an appointment will check in and then be able to go through the Salvation Army’s dining room, which will have supplies set up by grade levels, and receive the items they need.
“Some things will be set out so the kids can choose their folders or designs they like, things that are personable to them. And some things are already pre-packed. Like preschool age kids will have a box packed with their glue, crayons, basic things like that,” Kelli Trejo said.
Her husband, Capt. Jesus Trejo, said the school supply distribution is a family event that will include a carnival with games and a bouncy house.
“Applebee’s is donating hot dogs, chips and a soda fountain machine, and U-Hop donates a bounce house every year. We’re really appreciative of them,” Jesus Trejo said.
He added that even before the drive, Walmart donated three pallets of school supplies, which helped to kick off the season.
Kelli Trejo said Pizza Hut did a day of collecting school supplies and Menards did a drive. Target donated many supplies as well.
“Just a lot of agencies have worked together with the Norfolk Family Coalition and the chamber in really getting everything together. It’s a community thing. It’s the community saying, ‘We want the best for our youth,’ and then coming together to get that done,” Kelli Trejo said.
Community volunteers also help to make the Stuff the Bus drive a success each year.
Lilly Bouck, an incoming ninth grader at Norfolk High School, spent part of her day Thursday helping to sort supplies and pack bags.
“I always help with Stuff the Bus. My mom helps every year, and I do it with her,” Lilly said.
Jesus said the drive is the mother and daughter's “thing they do.”
“There’s no way we could do all of this by ourselves. We’re very grateful for their partnership — it’s quite a task. They have a system in place, and it’s very efficient,” Jesus Trejo said.
FOR FAMILIES who didn’t make it in to fill out an application, there may be some leftover supplies.
However, it won’t be known until after the distribution event what will be available.
“We’d love to be able to give out the leftover supplies, if we have any. So if families show up on Saturday, I’ll ask them to wait until the end. That way, those people that had appointments can make sure they get their supplies,” Kelli Trejo said.
Jesus said that in addition to that, last-minute requests will be processed next week.
“We are still taking donations, and we do take them year-round. Because you just never know, especially when families show up in the middle of the school year, and we need to put a bag together for them.
“And if we don’t (use all the supplies), we can save it for next year’s back to school,” Jesus Trejo said.
Those applying for Stuff the Bus school supplies must be the legal guardian of the children needing the supplies. Applicants must provide a photo identification of all adults living in the household, proof of income for working adults, a copy of monthly bills and birth certificates and medical cards for all children needing supplies.
While the drive is a lot of work, both Kelli and Jesus Trejo said it is rewarding.
“I love how everyone comes together to be able to provide what is needed, so kids can get the best education possible,” Kelli Trejo said.