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August 10, 2010 > The buses are stuffed

The buses are stuffed

By Suzanne Ortt
Photos By William Mancebo

School is starting soon. Students and parents are back-to-school shopping. Numerous families, due to the economic downturn, are having trouble fulfilling the schools' wish lists. Along came help to fill this gap, with "Stuff the Bus."

The catchy name was the brainstorm of Annie Zargarian, shift manager at Union Landing Wal-Mart. Aware of the changes in the economy, she devised a campaign to gather crucially needed school supplies, similar to the successful Toys for Tots drives.

Two months ago, Zagarian, with the consent of store management, approached local schools to discuss this plan and determine what supplies were needed. Details were worked out, following Wal-Mart's guidelines. And Stuff the Bus or Buses was born.

School buses from both Hayward Unified School District (HUSD) and New Haven Unified School District (NHUSD) were parked in the Wal-Mart lot in Union City, on the weekend of July 30 - August 1. Willing volunteers, from both school districts, numbering over 50, thronged to Wal-Mart to work one of the three days. They assisted in the store's lobby encouraging donors, shifting donations from the bins to the buses, and, when needed, loading the donations onto waiting trucks. Those giving of their time were school personnel, Union City Lions Club members, parents and other enthusiastic community members.

Friendly school supporters of the "Stuff the Bus" drive greeted those entering Wal-Mart. Conveniently, an array of needed school supplies was set up near the entrance. People could choose their purchases, proceed to the cashiers to pay, and then place them in either Hayward or New Haven bins.

One of the volunteers was Joyce Blackshire, an English teacher at Winton Middle School in Hayward. "I love this project. I wish we could do it every year for a month."

One of many keen community volunteers, Hayward resident Zachary Ebadi, emptied the donation bins in the store, and carted them to the appropriate bus.

Barbara Aro-Valle of New Haven Schools Foundation supported the effort. One of the reasons is her hope that, "no longer will teachers have to buy school supplies out of their own pockets." Aro-Valle was one of NHUSD's helpers, Friday afternoon, along with Richard La Plante.

The contributions were quickly filling the buses, organized and ready for these supplies. By early afternoon, both buses were ready to be emptied of their first loads. The two districts received ample donations, each bus being emptied four or more times during the three days.

Zagarian reported that the weekend happening was a fantastic success. She surmises one reason for the popularity was the public knowing that students would be benefiting from these donations. All supplies were going directly to Hayward and New Haven schools. Her wish, like that of Blackshire's, is that this becomes an annual event.

Due to its popularity, Blackshire and Vargarian may get their wish as "Stuff the Bus" very likely will return next year and may even be expanded.

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