Back-to-School Backpack Initiative Makes a Big Impact on Kids in Need

Sep 5, 2018

For hundreds of thousands of parents across the U.S., back to school comes with the added stress of scraping together the funds to purchase school supplies. Yet this year, thanks to the combined efforts of the United Way of Aroostook and a trio of IGA supermarkets owned and operated by the Tweedie family of Mars Hill, Maine, dozens of kids in Northeast Maine are starting the school year in style with brand new backpacks, school supplies, and even healthy snacks.

Star City IGA employees Joe Theriault & Connie Sturgeon
Image: Star City IGA employees Joe Theriault & Connie Sturgeon

The backpack initiative began when Josh Tweedie, president and owner of Star City IGA, Mars Hill IGA, and Hillside IGA, was asked to participate by IGA Licensed Distribution Company C&S Wholesale Grocers. Tweedie immediately agreed, explaining that “anytime we can give back to the community in any way, shape, or form, we are happy to do so.”

While the initial plan focused on filling backpacks with snacks and providing them to local soup kitchens, Ryan Guerrette, campaign chairman for the United Way, approached Tweedie with an alternative suggestion. Guerrette proposed that the United Way add school supplies to the backpacks and take care of the distribution as part of the charity’s Stuff the Bus initiative. After receiving assurances that all backpacks provided by Tweedie’s stores would serve kids in communities where his stores are located, the partnership took off.

snacks and supplies

To promote the event, Tweedie is leveraging his stores’ Facebook pages and taking out radio ads. For just $10, shoppers can purchase a high-quality backpack filled with IGA Exclusive Brand peanut butter, grape jelly, applesauce cups, and Honey Nut Toasted Oats cereal. Although shoppers have the option of keeping the backpacks for their own use, Tweedie believes that each pack so far has been donated to kids in need. Once the backpacks are purchased, the United Way collects the bags, adds the supplies, and then distributes them.

Tweedie notes that one of the things that makes the initiative so special is that it was relatively easy to get started. Other than some promotional efforts, all the store had to do was purchase the backpacks and food and put the backpacks together.


To date, more than half of the stock of 72 backpacks have been purchased and donated to area schools, and they have already made a big difference. A local guidance counselor recently contacted Tweedie to tell him how truly needed the supplies, food, and packs are, and how much the kids appreciate the gifts.

Sherry Locke, executive director of the United Way of Aroostook, also expressed her appreciation by noting, “The partnership with Tweedie IGA is a perfect example of identifying a community need and working together to solve it—the need being both food insecurity and school supplies. We value the partnership with Tweedie IGA and appreciate the continued support they provide to families here in Aroostook County. This is a project that no one entity could tackle alone, but by working together we are able to meet the needs in our community and Stuff the Bus PLUS!”

With the help of the Tweedie family’s IGA stores, this year’s United Way of Aroostook Stuff the Bus campaign has been the most successful one yet, distributing hundreds of backpacks to the kids of Aroostook County, and helping to relieve back to school stress for parents and kids throughout the community.

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