King City Rotary members and volunteers stand with initial supplies obtained to begin putting together backpacks full of school supplies for students in need during their Stuff the Bus kickoff on June 5. (Sean Roney/Staff)

SALINAS VALLEY — Rotarians in King City hosted a Stuff the Bus kickoff on June 5 at the Salinas Valley Fairgrounds, which marked the beginning of a month-long fundraising campaign to provide school supplies for students in South Monterey County.

Stuff the Bus is a program organized by United Way Monterey County, and the local effort was sponsored through a $5,000 collaborative grant between the Rotary Clubs of King City and Gonzales.

Another Stuff the Bus event is planned for this Saturday in Gonzales, where Rotarians will volunteer to assemble backpacks with new school supplies.

In mid-July, United Way will distribute the backpacks to students in partnership with Monterey County Office of Education and local school districts before the beginning of the 2021-22 school year.

“Our specific goal here is for school supplies for San Ardo, San Lucas, San Antonio, King City and Gonzales,” said Oscar Avalos, King City Rotary president. “Ours is specifically targeted to the students here and our community.”

Avalos said monetary donations are preferred, with United Way being able to assemble a backpack for every $25 collected. Donations can be made through, pressing the “Donate” tab and selecting the Stuff the Bus option.

“We are collecting funds to put into a bulk purchase,” said Katy Castagna, United Way Monterey County president. “We have pallets of backpacks and cases of notebooks.”

Monterey County Office of Education Superintendent Deneen Guss said more than 11,000 students are in need within Monterey County, with many experiencing homelessness and qualifying through the McKinny-Vento Program.

“The reality is, while we live in a county with great wealth and resources, many of our children and many of our families don’t even have the basic necessities to survive, much less to support their children in buying school supplies in order to start the year off right,” Guss said.

The Covid-19 pandemic made it even harder for many of these students and their families.

“We have so many families who are unemployed right now,” Guss said. “When you have to choose between paying your rent or electricity bill or buying a backpack and school supplies for your children, you have to make that choice of what’s going to keep you alive.”

“Covid-19 had a lot of effects on a lot of people,” Avalos added. “These families were already struggling before the pandemic. When you’re looking at a family with multiple children, it’s just adding more and more on top of that.”

The backpacks will be filled with such items as pencils, erasers and notebooks. The aim is to have the supplies ready for students in need, so they won’t be left behind once the new academic year begins.

“This is just so very helpful to be able to give these young people who need these resources a great start to the new school year by giving them those basic school supplies,” Guss said. “When these backpacks are handed to the kids, you see these huge smiles on their face because they feel more connected and ready to start school.”

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Sean Roney is a freelance reporter for King City Rustler and Salinas Valley Tribune, a unified publication of Greenfield News, Soledad Bee and Gonzales Tribune. He covers general news for the Salinas Valley communities in South Monterey County.


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