Company provides school supplies for students in need

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PORTLAND — As school gets underway this week many local students will be headed back to class with all the supplies they need, thanks to a long-running program at Unum.

For the 10th year in a row employees at Unum gathered recently to stuff more than 5,000 new backpacks with all the school supplies a student could need, from pens and paper to more.

The insurance giant puts “a lot of emphasis on public education. We know the importance of being prepared for school (and) we want to ensure that all Maine students start off on the right foot,” said Steve Alpren, Unum’s community relations specialist.

Unum steps in to provide school supplies each year because “for many families finding the resources to pay for these much-needed supplies is not easy,” he said.

Unum partners with Ruth’s Reusable Resources to provide the backpacks, Alpern said.

Ruth’s is a Portland-based nonprofit that puts surplus business supplies and merchandise into classrooms throughout Maine.

“Since 1994, (Ruth’s) has given away more than $48 million worth of surplus furniture, paper, books, office supplies and computers to Maine schools and nonprofits,” according to the organization’s website.

Alpern said Unum continues the tradition of working with Ruth’s to provide students with back-to-school supplies “due to the (ongoing) need.”

“It is not only a wonderful thing to do to support families and our community, but it also makes our employees feel as though they are positively impacting the growth of Maine’s future leaders,” he said.

Alpern said the goal behind providing the school supplies is to help students to “be their best in the classroom setting. We want them to look forward to learning and a new backpack filled with supplies is a real treat for them, their parents and teachers.”

Overall, he said, “It feels great to help those in need.”

Alpern said the backpacks full of supplies go to schools locally and throughout the state that have elevated rates of students who qualify for free and reduced lunch.

“Schools reach out to (Ruth’s) and request the (backpacks) based on need,” he said. “We make sure that all students at these respective schools get these, as we do not want some kids to feel left out.”

In addition to packing backpacks at Ruth’s, Alpern said Unum volunteers also pack backpacks for individual families in need through the United Way.

Each year, Alpern said, “We check in with (Ruth’s) to find out what supplies are most needed. We then hold a school supply drive at Unum, which lasts for three weeks.”

Along with the actual supplies, he said, the company also provides Ruth’s with a monetary grant so she “can get the necessary items for students K-12.”

“Our employees are always so generous” because they know that “Maine students are our future,” Alpern said.

“We hope that there will come a day when providing supplies will not be such a high need. Until then, we are committed to lending a hand.”

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or Follow Kate on Twitter: @KirishCollins.

Unum employees Debbie Laverriere, left, and Desirae Dubois help to fill backpacks with school supplies during a recent event held at Ruth’s Resuable Resources in Portland.

Students in need, both locally and all across Maine, are headed back to school fully loaded with all the necessary school supplies, thanks to Unum employees like Lisa Buotte.