More than 400 Missoula County Public Schools students will begin classes next week loaded with new backpacks stuffed with school supplies.

Thanks to the generosity of Missoula residents and businesses who supported the United Way of Missoula County’s fourth annual Stuff the Bus, the supply drive had its biggest-ever response.

“Every year, we collect school supplies to distribute to kids in need,” said Susan Hay Patrick, United Way of Missoula County’s chief operating officer. “We see this event as part of our support for Graduation Matters; that it is in keeping with our goals in the areas of education to ensure that every kid stays and succeeds in school.

“Sometimes that success is having the right tools – it’s often not more complicated than that.”

The new backpacks are filled with basics such as spiral notebooks, folders and erasers. Calculators are included in the packs for older students and crayons for younger students.

“This year, we are also giving each MCPS school a box of supplies,” Patrick said. “Teachers really are the first responders for knowing when a kid is in need, and a lot of teachers spend their own money for classroom supplies.”

Each school will get a sizable box of supplies to hand out as its teachers see fit.

“Not everybody can afford school supplies,” Patrick said. “It’s at least $50 to fill a backpack with school-approved supplies.

“Stuff the Bus is one way we can equip kids with the basic tools they need to get a good start at school.”

The need for such support is great, and the generosity of Missoula is greatly appreciated, said Karen Allen, MCPS executive regional director.

“I had an example recently of a mom who came into the school district, but she does not reside in a neighborhood with a family resource center,” Allen said. “She was asking about a resource center and it was wonderful to give her information about Stuff the Bus – that there was this resource in the community for her children.”

Students and families truly benefit from programs like Stuff the Bus because they profoundly touch core experiences.

“Coming into school with new crayons and a box to put your things in is so important,” Allen said. “Every kid deserves to walk in on the first day with his or her supplies.

“This program makes it possible for that to happen.”

Reporter Betsy Cohen can be reached at 523-5253 or at bcohen@missoulian.com.

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