The 25th anniversary of the Rutland Stuff-A-Bus was an opportunity for some of the people who started the food drive to gather, reminisce, and talk about what it really means.
“It was a program they ran in Portland, Maine, where I’m from, and it was relatively successful there, but it’s a bigger community, different demographics, it did OK, but they stopped it,” said John Bennett, the former Salvation Army captain who started the Rutland program. “When I was here, I said you know what, it’s going to work. This community is smaller, people actually care about each other, and the rest is history.”
While it was started by the Salvation Army, numerous organizations have taken part. Mix 98.1 WJJR, BROC Community Food Shelf, Rutland Community Cupboard, Marble Valley Regional Transit District (The Bus), and others get involved. The Bus had vehicles in the Rutland Plaza in front of Price Chopper on Saturday collecting donated food items, which get distributed between BROC, the Rutland Community Cupboard and Salvation Army.
“My idea was to raise food, yes, but more importantly, use the food as a means to bring the community together,” said Bennett, adding that he’s happy other organizations have become involved and taken ownership, keeping the whole thing going. “It’s not about the food, it’s about helping people help each other. People want to do that, but they often don’t know how. How often does something happen to somebody and people say, I want to do something but I don’t know what to do, I don’t want to offend, I don’t want to be intruding. They need someone to show them, and that’s what their program did, it showed us how.”
He was aboard one of the buses collecting food Saturday.
Nearby, another Stuff-A-Bus founder, Terry Jaye, of Mix 98.1 WJJR, was broadcasting interviews and promoting the effort.
Jaye said it took some convincing for him to join the Stuff-A-Bus effort 25 years ago.
“Portland, Maine, is so much bigger than we are, I didn’t think we’d be able to do it,” he said. “I didn’t want to fail. It kept going and got a little better every year, and now it’s affecting a lot of different organizations and people. It’s become a pet project for a lot of people.”
Besides Jaye and Bennett, other Rutland Stuff-A-Bus founders who made it for this year’s event included Sam Gorruso, Chris McCormack, Tom Leopold, Nanci Gordon and Stephanie Wilson. Michael Valentine and Benjy Bonilla were also involved, but have died in the ensuing years.
“I stayed on the bus the first year, I spent 54 hours on it, I only left the bus to use the facilities at Price Chopper, and it was great, very comfortable. It was an easy gig, I had a lot of fun, met a lot of people,” Jaye said.
His former co-host, Nanci Gordon, was on the bus one year while Jaye got a Stuff-A-Bus event started in Burlington. Gordon said one reason she thinks the Stuff-A-Bus has been successful is because people can see how much others have given. Plus, there’s a festive air to the entire thing that draws people in.
“When we first started we had a lot of World War II vets helping. The American Legion, the Elks Club, those guys would empty their pantries at the clubs and bring stuff down, I think we have a lot more organized groups working it now than we had,” said Jaye, adding that he hopes more young people will become involved.
Another reason Stuff-A-Bus is popular is because there’s records to break, said Jaye and Gordon.
Tom Donahue, executive director of BROC-Community Action, said Saturday that in terms of weight, last year’s record of 27,460 pounds still stands, narrowly, with 26,595 pounds collected this year, however, cash donations nearly doubled. Donahue said last year $7,600 was collected, this year people kicked in $13,705. That money will be used to buy food to be donated with the rest.
Saturday also saw Jaye recognized for his efforts.