TVC Stuffs the Bus with Basic Needs for TK Students

“We were blown away,” said Mary Breckon with Thornapple Valley Church in Middleville. “We were just thinking that at least anything we got would be 100 percent more than what was available now. We weren’t expecting much at all. We never imagined we would get so much. This is a great community. We care about each other. It’s what makes our community so great,” she said.

Breckon said family after family stopped by with donations of soap, shampoo, deodorants, and feminine hygiene products. They donated toothpaste and brushes, laundry detergent, socks, underwear, and even water bottles. In the one-day event, more than $6,000 in supplies were collected. Those items were distributed to school counselors throughout the district.

“This makes a difference. We’ve had some tough times and I think there are a lot of families who have never been in this position before where they can’t afford some of these basic necessities,” said Breckon.

Breckon said TVC wanted to find some tangible way to assist TK students. After talking with administrators about needs in the district, the Stuff the Bus campaign was organized. Now, TVC plans to continue collecting items year-round through their church collections and will annually hold the “Stuff the Bus” event. They’ll plan it every February to coincide with National Kindness Week. “Our hope is to provide a surplus of hygiene supplies that would both fill their pantry and keep themes stocked as long as possible,” she said.

TKHS guidance secretary Karen Sidebotham said the donations give so much hope to students who need them. Several times a week, she said, students will come to the office looking for basic hygiene necessities - especially girls needing feminine products.

“Kids know they have a place where they can come and ask and get help without everyone knowing about it. We don’t take names, and we don’t ask questions,” she said. “All of the products we’ve received from the bus event have been set up in a back room where students can come in and get what they need. They know they can get help here. It’s a safe place.”

There are a few classrooms in the high school where cabinets are also stocked with items for those in need. The Middle School similarly offers supplies to students in a safe manner.

Breckon said the church had been wanting to find a way to partner with the schools in real and tangible ways. After meeting with administrators, they decided on the campaign to collect hygiene items. “No one should need to worry about having a toothbrush or toothpaste or basic hygiene needs. Having these types of supplies available is such an emotional boost for students and it really could help change someone’s life.”

Mackenzie Baumgardner, elementary school counselor, said some of the supplies are shared with elementary schools as well. “Unfortunately, a lot of families in our district are dealing with insecurities - whether it’s a temporary situation or more of a long-term issue. This gives them one less thing they have to worry about. We don’t want students to have to go without brushing their teeth or washing their face just because they don’t have what they need.”

Baumgardner said meeting these basic needs helps students feel better and more confident about themselves. “When you feel good about yourself, you’re more likely to do well in school,” she said.

Younger students, she said, get so excited when they get to pick out a new toothbrush or hairbrush. “They don’t always get to do that like other students do,” she said.

She said the Stuff the Bus campaign is greatly appreciated. “It’s just reassuring to all of us. We are always going to have some families in need, and we want them to know there are safe places they can turn to for help. It shows how big a heart this community has and how selfless everyone is. We realize we can all be a team and help students in need.”

She said it’s especially nice that the church and volunteers are going to continue to collect items throughout the year and have the Stuff the Bus campaign as an annual event. “It’s just incredible and really shows the heart of this community.”

Items filling the bus induced deodorant, feminine hygiene products, Kleenex, toothpaste and toothbrushes, shampoo and conditioner, bar soap, hand soap, laundry detergent, baby wipes, razors, water bottles, socks and individually wrapped snacks, and gift cards for gas or groceries.

“It’s so hard to hear about parents who cannot afford basic necessities. Kids have a hard time learning and feeling comfortable at school when their needs are not being met,” said Homeless Liaison Marcy Jore. “We are grateful for our community's generosity and TVC's efforts to gather these items for our students in the cold and snow.”

Jore said addressing these basic needs can have a transformative impact on the students’ education. Schools can help level the playing field and create an environment where all students have an equal chance for academic success. She noted being able to provide these items can also help improve attendance, increase overall engagement, improve a student’s health and well-being, and allow kids to feel comfortable and confident while at school.

“This community has been known for a long time for their willingness to come together and help others. That’s what this is - the community coming together and showing they care,” said Breckon.