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Posted on: August 1, 2013 at 11:25 AM
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Members Making a Difference Spotlights Matthew Cantrall

Matthew Cantrall - local Lakeland businessman who for more than a decade has tirelessly lead his local Kiwanis Club to provide much needed school supplies to area schools through the Stuff the Bus Program.

By Julie Townsend, Targeted Marketing Specialist

Most of us are not eager to spend a lot of money on school supplies this year. The average person is always looking for ways to trim the back-to-school budget. Matthew Cantrall, however, is not the average person. His back-to-school budget is a hopeful $65,000 or more.

“Sometimes I can catch the stockers before they unpack the pallets to the shelves. I load the shipping boxes of crayons, paper or glue directly from the pallet to my car,” explains Cantrall.

Matthew Cantrall is no hoarder. He’s the driving force behind Stuff the Bus – a community campaign that collects and distributes schools supplies to elementary schools. The idea came to him eleven years ago back in 2002 while he was president of the Lakeland Kiwanis Club.

“I felt our club needed a summer project and with Kiwanis having a focus on young children I wanted to do something that had a big impact on them,” explains Cantrall.

Matthew had heard of other communities doing Stuff the Bus programs for items like blankets or food. The name lent itself perfectly for a school supply drive, and the idea was born. Last year marked the tenth year and the largest campaign to date totaling just over $65,000 in cash and product. Matthew hopes to build on last year’s momentum.

The program concept is pretty simple. Area businesses are asked to allow a donation box in their place of business where customers and employees can contribute items. School supplies are never cheaper than at this time of year, so folks can easily pick up an extra pack of paper, glue, pencils, notebooks or folders and drop them at one of the 65 participating business. These supplies help kids that don’t have much, who can’t always afford the nickel and diming of school costs. Stuff the Bus also helps already over strapped teachers who often spend more than $1,000 of their own money to supply their classrooms. The program serves 29 public elementary schools in Lakeland providing more than $50,000 worth of supplies between what is collected from the donation boxes and supplies purchased with cash donations.

Merri Crawford, principal of Philip O’Brien Elementary expresses thanks for the supplies her school receives each year. “It is a blessing to the students and staff to be included as one of the Stuff the Bus recipients. Because of the generosity of the community, our students have the resources needed to start the year. Additionally, we are able to replenish student supplies as the year progresses.”

Execution of the program, however, is anything but simple. Matthew begins around February, contacting businesses for box locations and cash donations. It is always a challenge because, as school supply costs go up each year, the same amount of money does not go as far. Funds from businesses and club members are a big part of the program’s success, and Matthew uses 100% of the funds donated to purchase school supplies at the very best prices. He plans fundraisers in partnership with local restaurants, too. Then in mid-August, Matthew calmly directs a volunteer team that sorts, inventories, and distributes tens of thousands of dollars of supplies to 29 schools.

Kathy Wallen, current Lakeland Kiwanis Club president, praises his efforts. “The incredible growth of the Stuff the Bus program is a testament to Matthew’s resolve to be the difference maker. Matthew leads by example, spending huge amounts of personal time to raise funds, secure donation sites, and rally volunteers. He truly lives ‘service above self’.”

Matthew’s passion for Stuff the Bus has caught on in other communities. Today there are 5 Kiwanis Clubs in Polk County engaged in Stuff the Bus. Kiwanis Clubs in Brandon and Sun City also do a Stuff the Bus campaign. In Polk County alone Stuff the Bus reaches about 45 schools and annually distributes close to $100,000 in supplies.

“Matthew’s vision to see the need, his passion to serve, and his leadership to execute resulted in this 11-year legacy event,” adds Kiwanis President-elect Scott Gardner. “Stuff the Bus is another great example of how service clubs can combine talent, time, and resources to benefit their communities.”

Recognition of Matthew’s leaderships and commitment to service does not end with his local Kiwanis Club. Matthew Cantrall has been elected to the position of Governor Elect of the Florida District of Kiwanis. The Florida District of Kiwanis serves over 9,000 Kiwanians and over 30,000 Kiwanis family members. Matthew currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Learning Resource Center and is on the Vestry at All Saints’ Episcopal Church. He has served as a Director for Lakeland Area Chamber of Commerce and is a graduate of Leadership Lakeland 17.

Stuff the Bus donation boxes are available at 5 area MIDFLORIDA branches – North Lakeland, South Lakeland, Hollingsworth, Downtown Tower, and Mall. MIDFLORIDA will also be collecting items during Downtown Lakeland’s First Friday on August 2. Just visit our booth on S. Kentucky from 6pm to 9pm Friday evening to donate to the cause.

For more information about Stuff the Bus contact Lakeland Kiwanis Club or call 863.686.5900.

Members Making a Difference is a new series of articles where we celebrate MIDFLORIDA members committed to serving their communities. In our first article we spotlight Matthew Cantrall, local Lakeland businessman who for more than a decade has tirelessly lead his local Kiwanis Club to provide much needed school supplies to area schools through the Stuff the Bus Program. Do you know of a MIDFLORIDA member Making a Difference? Please contact Julie Townsend at jtownsend@midflorida.com with your story.