A school bus driver for Longview (Wash.) Public Schools has raised more than $3,000 to support some of his colleagues who were laid off due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ray Bartness, who has been driving a school bus for 17 years, told School Bus Fleet that he got the idea for a walk-a-thon fundraiser after he and his colleagues received temporary layoff letters in August.
“I was doing my daily walk and your mind just goes 100 miles an hour when you’re out there walking the track,” he told SBF. “I just knew some of our drivers were going to get hit pretty hard.”
He knew of one driver who was a single parent that would now be supporting her three children on unemployment, another driver who would now have to support his family of five, and another driver who had been on medical leave since last year, Bartness told SBF.
For his walk-a-thon on Sept. 26, Bartness walked a total of 68 laps, one for each year of his age, at one of the district’s high school tracks. Starting at 9 a.m. to late in the afternoon, he was surrounded by his family, fellow Longview school bus drivers, and members of the community as he completed each lap.
Initially, Bartness said his goal was to raise $1,000 and give at least $300 to $350 to two or three drivers. But after creating a GoFundMe account, which garnered a little over $1,600, and receiving community donations from people as far away as Tennessee, he raised a total of $3,700.
“I just handed out the last check to one of our drivers today,” Bartness said. “We were able to give six of our drivers $500 each to help them out, and that turned out a whole lot better than I thought. The response was pretty overwhelming.”
He added that the remaining $700 raised would go toward an emergency fund for the drivers in case anything happens when they return to work during the school year.
Currently, Longview Public Schools has 41 regular route drivers and 19 substitute drivers, according to Bartness. A few of the drivers, including Bartness, are now delivering meals to students during remote learning until the district returns to in-person learning later this fall.