2023 Eagle Scout Project of the Year: He transformed a school bus into a mobile food pantry

While volunteering with the Messengers of Hope Mission, Jackson Davis noticed a need. The Florida-based food pantry would ask its volunteers to load up canned goods and frozen food, and drive it all to a parking lot for low-income families and those experiencing homelessness to pick up.

“Since they used the volunteers’ personal cars,” the 17-year-old says. “they were limited; they couldn’t get enough food out to the people who needed it the most.”

The food pantry wanted a bus to transport the food, but that wish had stayed just that: a wish. Until Jackson decided to devote his Eagle Scout project to making it a reality.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, his project got delayed, but after two years of working on it and raising $16,000, he transformed an old school bus into a mobile food pantry.

“It’s been able to serve thousands of people so far,” Jackson says. “Because of Scouting and my dream, there were people in my community that were able to be helped.”

For his exceptional efforts, Jackson, a member of Troop 77 in New Port Richey, Fla., received the 2023 Glenn A. and Melinda W. Adams National Eagle Scout Service Project of the Year Award.

The Adams awards, which include 16 territorial winners and a national winner selected from one of those territorial winners, recognize outstanding Eagle projects completed by young people who earned the Eagle Scout rank in 2022. The national winner receives a $3,500 scholarship, which they can use for their future education or to attend a national or international Scouting event.

Picking the project

Jackson began his Scouting journey as a Tiger, advancing through the ranks of Cub Scouting before crossing over to Troop 77. Some of his favorite outings included hitting the ski slopes with his fellow Scouts as well as a trek at Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico. Over the years, he and his father had volunteered with Messengers of Hope Mission and had heard in passing its leaders’ wish for a bus. As Jackson was brainstorming ideas for his Eagle Scout project, he met with the food pantry’s director and discussed the bus.

Then, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Jackson couldn’t work on his project for months as he waited for a time to talk with his school board. During the waiting period, he researched how to equip the bus. He wanted coolers so the frozen food could stay cold. He wanted an electric RV awning on the side to provide people with some shade as they picked up their food. And he wanted to install a roll-up door to allow better access into the bus.

YouTube tutorials were his friend when researching.

“There’s been buses done like this before,” Jackson says. “There’s a lot of online documentation on how to run the electrical system — that was a very big help.”

When the school board began to meet again, Jackson made his pitch. The board approved the idea and gave him the pick from five old buses. Jackson’s grandfather inspected each, helping him choose a 2005 model without any major repairs. The vehicle cost $2,000, for which a crowdfunding effort helped pay after Jackson secured the registration and insurance. Next, Jackson had to raise more money to refurbish the bus.

The work begins

Jackson’s council, the Greater Tampa Bay Area Council, guided him through properly reaching out to sponsors. One of his ideas included selling advertising space on the side of the bus.

With the funding secured, Jackson and his workers started renovating the bus. Using the blueprints he designed at school, Jackson led his crew in first removing the seats and taking them to the junkyard. Then they covered some of the windows with plywood and metal panels, built interior shelving and installed three chest coolers. They attached an air-conditioning unit and painted the vehicle’s interior and exterior. They installed an inverter and an electric RV awning.

Over two years, 44 people worked on the bus, contributing 450 work hours in all. Some of the help was unexpected: One day, a passerby stopped his bike ride to lend his automotive knowledge to Jackson.

“The community likes to come together to help the community as a whole,” Jackson says. “It was really inspiring.”

When the project was complete, Messengers of Hope Mission hosted a small ceremony, thanking Jackson for his work, which now helps his community every other week during distribution days.

“We can get them more food,” he says. “Every time we serve food, we distribute more. They’re able to move through the line faster. They really enjoy the shade they get while they’re going through.”

Lessons learned

Transforming a passion or using your expertise in your project are great ways to stay motivated to finish a project. That doesn’t mean there won’t be challenges along the way. When there are obstacles, you can rely on what you’ve learned in Scouting.

“A lot of Scouts who helped didn’t necessarily know how to use tools or construction,” Jackson says. “The EDGE method helped a lot in the project.”

The designs were altered frequently, too, but Jackson stayed positive, confident that everything would work out.

“Your community will back you up,” he says. “They’ll make sure you have the resources you need to accomplish it.”

How to nominate an Eagle Scout for the Adams Award

If you know an Eagle Scout whose project is worthy of consideration for the Eagle Scout Service Project of the Year award, please nominate them.

Find a nomination form, judging criteria and more information at this link.

Any Eagle Scout, their parents or any registered BSA volunteer (with the Eagle Scout’s permission) may submit an Eagle Scout service project for consideration. Each council will then nominate one outstanding project to the National Eagle Scout Association.

About Michael Freeman 446 Articles
Michael Freeman, an Eagle Scout, is an associate editor of Scout Life and Scouting magazines.