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Donations barely fit in two school buses and will restock Caring Closet shelves for another year

BARBARA SHERMAN - Deer Creek Elementary student ambassadors toted big bags filled with clothes and other items donated by all the students from the school lobby out to the waiting bus, where Tigard High School students waited inside to 'stuff the bus.'The Tigard-Tualatin School District's annual Stuff the Bus has become such a popular event that at times students are having so much fun that they probably forget they are actually contributing to a great cause.

It was the brainchild of the late Jan Kittleson, a tireless advocate for the district's students who worked non-stop for many years to improve their lives and further their education.

Stuff the Bus, now in its seventh year, is a week-long event during which students in all the schools collect new and slightly used clothes and toiletries for the Caring Closet that culminates in two school buses being driven around to all the schools so students can load up their bounty.

The Caring Closet is now in its 17th year of serving low-income and homeless families in the district by providing clothes and shoes plus books and household items such as toiletries, laundry supplies, bedding and towels.

"We will have nearly 2,000 visits here this year and serve roughly 15 percent of the school district," Caring Closet Director Rose Money wrote in an email. "With the spike in homeless students over the past two years, our services have evolved to meeting the needs of children living in cars, sheds and other places.

"The buses run a prescribed route each year, stopping at each district school. Many of the schools go all out for Stuff the Bus where every student and every staff member (are) outside with a band, marimba group, PA system, etc. The kids fire-pail (pass) the bags of donations onto the buses. It's a super fun event for the students!

BARBARA SHERMAN - Deer Ceek Elementary student ambassadors, who organized the Stuff the Bus drive at their school, pose with a banner promoting the annual event in front of the school.

"The buses are then unloaded at Tigard High in the Deb Fennel Auditorium lobby by 70 THS students, where 50 community volunteers sort through the items, organize them and transport them to our storage area on the high school campus. This event is a machine! The buses begin picking up donations a 9, arriving at the high school at 11:40 and 12:15. Volunteers arrive at the high school at 11:15, and we are out of the auditorium by 2:30."

Following this year's Stuff the Bus pick-up day (Friday, May 21), Money reported the following:

n One and three-quarters school buses were stuffed with donations this year;

n Every district school participated in some way; n Hundreds of volunteers (students and parents) helped coordinate the event; n Student Transportation of America, the district's bus transportation company, donated the buses, and the drivers donated their time;

n A few high school students rode around on the two buses to take the big brown sacks of items that students at each school handed through the bus door; and 70 high students volunteered to "un-stuff" the buses at Tigard High School;

n More than 50 community volunteers sorted, organized and transported donations for the Caring Closet to its storage unit.

"These donations will help us to stock our shelves for next fall," Money said. "The Closet will host nearly 2,000 visits next year."

The Home Depot provided the reusable paper bags to collect and transport all the items, and Sign Scope made two Stuff the Bus signs for each school in the district.

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