Students and staff at Stark County's public school districts, R.G. Drage Career Technical Center, the Stark County Educational Service Center and the Stark ESC's member districts in Carroll, Summit, Tuscarawas and Wayne counties have joined the inaugural "Hunger: The Bus Stops Here" fundraising drive.
Through April 27, each district will be collecting nonperishable food in hopes of stuffing at least one of their school buses full of donations. Residents also can donate food by dropping it off at their local school. The top needed food items are boxed cereal, peanut butter, canned vegetables, canned tuna, canned soup and canned beef stew.
Monetary donations are being accepted online at http://tinyurl.com/BusStopsHere.
On May 1, a caravan of the stuffed school buses will travel to the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank in Akron to deliver the donations. It will mark the first time the school districts have come together for a single fundraising initiative.
Stark County superintendents said they wanted their schools to become involved in the fundraising effort for the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank because they have seen the organization's impact on their students.
Figures from the regional Foodbank show that nearly 1 in 4 children in classrooms across its eight-county service area likely will face hunger this year. National studies have shown children who lack regular access to nutritional food are at a higher risk for chronic illness and behavioral problems and are more likely to fall behind in school.
Minerva Local Superintendent Gary Chaddock said the Foodbank supplies thousands of pounds of food for Minerva's backpack program, where students with a financial need, from kindergarten to seniors, receive a backpack with a variety of ready-to-eat or easy-to-prepare nonperishable foods to cover their meals for the weekend.
"We send out more than 300 backpacks full of food every weekend," said Chaddock, who plans to drive Minerva's stuffed school bus to Akron himself.
He said each school principal has developed a variety of fundraising initiatives for their building, such as jeans week for teachers who bring in donations and homeroom food competitions.
"It's another great thing that schools are doing to help their communities," he said.
Alliance Superintendent Jeffery Talbert said he witnesses the Foodbank's impact as a board member of the Alliance Community Food Pantry, which is one of the roughly 100 food pantries and hunger-relief sites in Stark County affiliated with the Akron-Canton Foodbank.
"Our food pantry purchases a great deal of food from the Foodbank," Talbert said. "We know that because the Foodbank offers (food) for such a really low rate ... this was something we should be a part of."
He said the district's fundraising efforts will be on top of the other food drives it holds for the local food pantry throughout the year.
"Everybody understands the need and people are rising to the occasion," he said.
The districts' donations will go toward the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank's ongoing Harvest for Hunger campaign, which is its largest annual fundraising initiative. The Foodbank hopes to collect 100,000 pounds of food and raise $1.25 million this year.
This year's Harvest for Hunger campaign is being led by Jim Porter, publisher of The Canton Repository and The Massillon Independent and general manager of the Alliance Review, and Mark Cohen, publisher of the Akron Beacon Journal.
For more information about the Harvest for Hunger campaign, visit akroncantonfoodbank.org.