The event collected three full school busses worth of donated food and household supplies.
State College Area School District Stuff the Bus campaign. Photo by Nabil K. Mark
Credit: Nabil K. Mark

When the coronavirus pandemic began sweeping the nation, Van Swauger did not need anything more than personal experience to fully grasp the challenges his community would face with food insecurity.

"As a younger boy, we depended on the food bank for a period," the Director of Transportation for the State College Area School District told Allrecipes. "When COVID-19 hit, I was looking for a way we could help the local food bank because of that."

Swauger used his professional and personal networks and sprang into immediate action, deciding to host a one-day event to stuff a school bus with food to be donated to the State College Food Bank, which services Centre County in State College, Pennsylvania.

"I had seen it in other places — stuff the bus — people call it different things, so I decided I'm going to try to do this," Swauger said. "I was hoping for half a bus or one full bus."

With the support of his co-workers and administration, Swauger used digital video conferencing meetings to organize efforts and advertised via press release one week prior to the event.

"I think the local newspapers and radio picked it up, too," he added.

The turnout was more than Swauger could have imagined. Donations of food and household products poured in at donation locations across town.

"Through an amazing community and donations, we ended up with three full busses with enough food to supply the food bank for the entire summer on a weekly basis," Swauger said.

"My part was to gather food from all the school buildings. [We] had it at 10 school buildings where people could drop food off."

When all of the donations, which included both non-perishable food and essential supplies like laundry detergent, had been gathered, they filled an entire library, as well as an additional room at the district's main office building.

"While it's over there, we have another team [of volunteers] sorting all the food, so we know — these are cans of green beans, whatever the food bank might need. They can let us know what they need as they need it," Swauger said.

With no bussing happening and no students to transport, Swauger explains that being able to organize an effort to give back to the community was a special feeling.

"For me, when I saw the amount of food it sent chills," he said. "Just the amazing outpouring of support that we got for it and the community and giving back for the people that need it the most - especially the people that have been laid off - is an amazing feeling for me."

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