By Nancy Winckler-Zuniga
Originally published in The Florida Times-Union
Kevin Fleeger, group vice president at Southeast Toyota Distributors in Jacksonville, loves a chance at a little friendly competition and so do many of his coworkers. That’s why participating in United Way of Northeast Florida’s Stuff the Bus campaign in partnership with First Coast News is a perfect opportunity to raise the bar a little higher on themselves while impacting the local community.
“We have a strong relationship with United Way,” Fleeger said. “One area we focus on is education and by helping with school supplies. It’s an opportunity to make a tangible impact on the community and we love a challenge.”
While residents from all over the city participated in the Stuff the Bus campaign last year, Southeast Toyota Distributors won the corporate challenge, filling 131 backpacks with materials and pulling together 5,451 other supply items that took three pickup trucks to bring to the collection event.
Fleeger understands firsthand the help these supplies can have on both the classrooms they are meant to help and his colleagues who come together on a hot August day to gather and sort them out.
“We all have our personal journeys, and a lot go back to childhood,” Fleeger said.
His own personal journey involved parents who struggled with making ends meet. Fleeger said the example of his parents’ strength through those times and their keeping financial struggles as much as possible from their children helped him focus on his education and future. He wishes more parents were able to give their children that strength.
“As we see it, Stuff the Bus was a perfect example of a way we could make our community stronger,” Fleeger said. “We look for ways to strengthen families. So many families are fractured these days, and young children might not have the support they need. A project like this strengthens the community and just makes everything and everyone a little better.”
Fleeger said their volunteers came up with a simple “divide and conquer” plan to organize the supply collection and make sure they were getting what was really needed.
“First and foremost, we have a great team that participates in this drive,” Fleeger said. “If we do it once, then we’d better do it better a second time. We focused on 25 items that were not redundant, collecting what United Way really needed. But, you know, we always try to do better. If last year was 5,400 items, then this year it will be 5,401!”
Their friendly competitive spirit has gone a long way toward helping students get a good start on a new school year. If you would like to lead a Stuff the Bus school-supply collection drive, sign up today by visiting unitedwaynefl.org/stuffthebus. Then, join United Way and First Coast News at The Markets at St. Johns (near Toys”R”Us) to help us Stuff the Bus Aug. 4.