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Keys United Way collecting school supplies for kids in need

Students at the Big Pine Academy are all smiles with their Stuff the Bus donations from a previous year.
Students at the Big Pine Academy are all smiles with their Stuff the Bus donations from a previous year.

The United Way of the Florida Keys wants to make sure kids whose families aren't flush with money have essential classroom supplies when they return to school on Monday.

The United Way of the Florida Keys, an umbrella social-service agency for a dozen nonprofit groups whose focus has been on youth nutrition, is collecting school supplies for economically disadvantaged students until Aug. 25.

The campaign, called Stuff the Bus, is sponsored by numerous banks and businesses where school supplies and monetary donations can be dropped off.

United Way President Margie Smith said backpacks, computer flash drives and paper are the main items school principals list as most needed. Pens and notebooks are also needed. All donated goods benefit students in 17 schools in Monroe County and are distributed in September.

"Of the 8,000 students in Monroe County, 20 percent of them benefit from the donated items," Smith said. "A lot of kids are showing up to school without the basics to succeed in school."

Smith said most kids don't vocalize the materials they need for school and most of the donated items are given to the kids discretely by an administrator. The children in need are referred by the schools.

Stuff the Bus has been done in Monroe County the past five years. Donations doubled between 2012 and 2013 and are expected to be more this year.

Smith said a significant number of students in Monroe County come from families that do not have stable employment and may end up leaving the Keys to find work. Kids are then left in between homes of friends and acquaintances.

"School Board member Andy Griffiths recently gave a presentation that revealed 48 percent of kids in the county are eligible for free and reduced[-priced] lunch," Smith said. "About 300 kids are considered homeless; teenagers are couch-surfing after school."

Businesses that want to donate to the Stuff the Bus campaign can contact the United Way at (305) 735-1929 or go to www.keysunitedway.org.

For monetary donations, Smith said checks should be made out to the United Way of Florida Keys, with Stuff the Bus in the memo. Checks can be donated at any participating business or mailed to P.O. Box 1287 Islamorada, FL 33036.

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