South Fayette students stuffing bus for Toys for Tots drive in Washington County
A school bus sits in front of the South Fayette Pupil Services building, adorned with Christmas decorations and a sign honoring the school's 10th year of the Stuff-a-Bus collection drive.
Sparked by a Pittsburgh radio station's same mission of filling a school bus with as many new, unwrapped toys as possible for area children in need, the school's student government association has coordinated the collection of over 20,000 toys in the last decade.
The concept is to collect toys during the holiday season, placing them in school buses so others — from student organizers to those donating — can visually see how just one toy can make a difference. For the South Fayette students, the drive began Nov. 28 and runs until Dec. 15. All monetary and material donations will then be transported to the Washington County Marine Toys for Tots donation site.
“Our students come up with ideas and ways to build on community service,” said Shawn McArdle, high school social studies teacher for South Fayette Township School District and student government co-adviser. “The first year, we collected 450 toys; last year, we collected a little over 4,000.”
The group hosts four major events throughout the year — including Stuff-a-Bus — all intended for donating the proceeds to others in need. The students all are in grades nine through 12.
“There's homecoming, Stuff-a-Bus, our version of Penn State University's THON and the Glow Run — a June marathon just before the end of the school year where they donate the money raised to the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh,” McArdle said. “They don't receive any extra credit, or credit for any classes. They do it because they want to; they run these events.”
South Fayette Superintendent Bille Rondinelli said the events are a result of the district's mission to influence its children to be productive citizens.
“South Fayette has been working with our students to really be global students; they're learning to be entrepreneurs. Our students are working for the welfare and good of the community,” Rondinelli said.
All facets of district staff and community members participate, she said.
“Our district has their own transportation, but our drivers are donating their time for this. They do not get paid to help for this event,” Rondinelli said.
McArdle said the effort's corporate sponsor — Musuneggi Financial Group in Scott — does its own collection, and welcomes the students to pick up donations on the night of the company's holiday party so they can meet employees.
Other schools and businesses in the district have become involved in this project, too, McArdle said.
“The high school library is the hub for everything, so the middle school (students) will walk toys over to the high school while singing and playing Christmas music,” McArdle said. “Parents are offering to have donation boxes outside of their work. We also collect money, and the week before Christmas, I take the students shopping so that they can buy toys. It's really a fun and exciting event.”
Rondinelli said the students also are leveraging social media to their advantage, and added that others are responding well. McArdle said the school is using an Instagram account — @SFStuffaBus — specifically for this event to encourage selfies with the popular children's toy Elf on the Shelf.
Rondinelli is proud of her students and said these projects are why she — and other educators — love their profession.
“It really warms your heart,” Rondinelli said. “There's so much going on in this world, and these events really encourage us as educators. South Fayette is a special place.”
Christina Sheleheda is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.