Marion County school supply drives gearing up

A pencil box and other school supplies are shown in one of the 50 backpacks delivered for Stuff The Bus by U.S. Army Col. Craig Ham, retired, at Hillcrest School in Ocala, Fla. on Friday, Oct. 2, 2020. Ham, who is with the Kingdom of the Sun Chapter, Military Officers Association of America (MOAA) has delivered 946 backpacks filled with school supplies valued at $40,441.50 for children from needy families to 31 schools in Marion County so far this year. Ham, a former Deputy Superintendent of Marion County Public Schools, is the vice president of the MOAA chapter and also presides over the Marion County Veterans Council. According to Ham, the Stuff The Bus program was started 19 years ago by the late Col. (Chaplain) Lamar Hunt who was the president of the MOAA chapter at the time. Suzanne McGuire, formerly of Marion County Public Schools, was also involved in the program and helped with it for several years, he said. The MOAA chapter program has provided more than a half million dollars of needed supplies to needy students in Marion County since it was started, Ham said. Cash and donations are given by individuals and businesses in the community. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, this year marks a high water mark for Stuff The Bus, where the most backpacks and school supplies were delivered with the delivery to Hillcrest School on Friday. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2020.

Home » Education
Posted July 16, 2021 | By Joel Bronson,

An assortment of school supplies is shown in this 2020 file photo from a Stuff The Bus delivery to Hillcrest School. [Bruce Ackerman/OG]

With the start of the 2021-22 school year just around the corner, two Marion County school supply drives are preparing for their respective donation drives.

Stuff The Bus and Bus Brigade, two of Marion County’s most successful school supply drives for needy students, are gearing up for their annual efforts.

Craig Ham is the president of the Marion County Veterans Council, which serves as a major supporter of the Stuff The Bus program.

“Stuff The Bus has been gathering supplies for Marion County’s needy students for over 20 years,” Ham said. “We get backpacks with supplies directly to the school guidance counselors, who can, in turn, provide them to needy students immediately.”

Because of COVID-19 restrictions, much of the backpack preparation happens with family and a small group of supporters.

“My grandkids have been helping stuff pencil boxes with supplies,” Ham said. “Then, volunteers meet at a storage location and complete the process of loading up backpacks.”

Area veterans will gather to complete the process of stuffing backpacks on July 24.

Ham will begin delivering backpacks to area elementary schools on July 26.

The Bus Brigade, a Marion County Public Schools initiative, also provides school supplies for the county’s homeless and needy students.

“Mission: Bus Brigade – Supply Their Success” is the name of this summer’s supply drive. Donations will be distributed to the county’s 29 elementary, 10 middle, eight high schools and eight additional educational institutions in Marion County.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, donation collection has been challenging.

For Bus Brigade, COVID-19 restrictions prohibit a real school bus from visiting community locations this year to pick up donations, so Bus Brigade is accepting monetary donations.

Checks can be made payable to “Homeless/Needy Children Program” and mailed to Mission: Bus Brigade, c/o Homeless and Needy Children Program, Marion County Public Schools, 1614 E. Fort King Street, Ocala, FL 34471.

Marion County public schools resume classes on Aug. 10.

Super Tuesday Donation Day

On Aug 3, The Bus Brigade will hold its “Super Tuesday,” where additional donations will be accepted at these Ocala locations:

• 9 a.m. – County Commission meeting
McPherson Government Complex, 601 SE 6th Place

• 10:30 a.m. – Ocala/Marion County Association of Realtors®
3105 NE 14th St.

• 11:30 a.m. – Staples
1901 E. Silver Springs Blvd.

• 12:30 p.m. – Staples
Shady Oaks Shopping Center, SW State Road 200, Ocala

• 1:30 p.m. – VFW Post 4781
9401 SW 110th St.

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