COVID-19 forces school district to shift gears in helping homeless kids

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Posted July 7, 2020 | By Bill Thompson, Deputy Editor

The challenges of COVID-19 have wreaked havoc on public education locally.

But at the County Commission’s meeting on Tuesday, Marion County Public Schools officials illustrated a different obstacle for kids who face more disadvantages than most.

Tom Butler, the school district’s liaison for homeless students, told the board the virus forced a tactical shift in the annual drive to collect supplies for the children his office monitors.

Each year the district utilizes a school bus to gather the goods, and one major stop for the effort is Walmart. But because of coronavirus, Butler said, the retail giant has said the district must park the bus and only install a small box inside the store.

Butler noted that last year Walmart, the County Commission and the district’s other partners, Staples and Community Bank & Trust, helped bring in $150,000 of supplies to be spread across all 58 district schools.

“Because of COVID-19, we know that there’s going to be a greater need for school supplies,” Butler said. “With Walmart not being on board with us being in front of Walmart, we’re going to have to solicit donations from various organizations, businesses and different individual citizens to fill the gap.”

“We’re going to have to work harder this year, so that we can get the school supplies we need,” he added. “We’re really going to push because normally during the month of July is the time when we collect our school supplies.”

Butler encouraged the audience to keep watch around the community for bright signs announcing “Mission: Bus Brigade,” noting the collection for homeless and needy children.

Last year the district served 2,186 homeless students, Butler said.