U-Haul Dealer in Leesburg, Fla., Helps the Homeless

Mark Stapleton is the owner of 441 Thrift Store and U-Haul in Leesburg, Fla. Because of the known homeless population in town, he planned a drive for their benefit. This year he teamed with The Open Door for his holiday event.

The Open Door is a drop-in center for Lake County individuals and families who are homeless or at-risk of homelessness. LifeStream, a Lake County psychiatric facility, runs the program. Through a suggestion from someone on his Facebook page, Stapleton found the organization.

Stapleton made gift bags with items the homeless need, including gift cards to fast-food restaurants. Waterman Memorial Hospital in Eustis donated a turkey dinner to the homeless through The Open Door and wanted the gift bags ready to hand out to the people coming to the dinner. “They asked me to have everything there so they can sort and get the bags together,” Stapleton said.

Passion for Giving Back

411 Thrift Store and U-Haul in Leesburg, Fla.
411 Thrift Store and U-Haul in Leesburg, Fla.

Some five years ago, Stapleton made a concerted effort to begin giving back to his community. At the time, a nurse at a local elementary school told him about several children with their shoes taped together. The next day, he met with the nurse and the principal to plan a clothing drive.

Stapleton noted that these kids are going to be the city’s leaders and employees in the future. “If you give them a better motivation to start early, it’s better for the community,” he said. Nowadays, Stapleton and the 441 Thrift Store run about five drives or volunteer events per year.

“It’s whoever at the time, I feel, has the most need and I can help out the most people,” Stapleton added. “What we’re trying to do, a bunch of us as a group, is turn Leesburg around. And to do that, it has to be everyone helping everyone else out.”

Stapleton also belongs to a newspaper family. He spreads the word of the volunteer events he spearheads utilizing press releases and Facebook to drum up support for the events.

Beyond the Holidays

Finally, Stapleton realized food banks are low in stock as donations decline after the holiday season. As a result, he has another drive to raise food for the homeless and less fortunate as the new year begins. “We try to run one every year right after Christmas to restock a little bit,” he said.

U-Haul and Leesburg are also thankful for the selfless work Stapleton is doing to aid his community and the homeless population in Central Florida. A U-Haul neighborhood dealer since 2013, contact the 441 Thrift Store and U-Haul at (352) 315-1746.

U-Haul is working to eradicate homelessness every day through its sponsorship of Humble Design. The Detroit-born nonprofit, which also operates in Chicago and will be expanding to other markets, provides formerly homeless families and veterans with gently-used donated home furnishings and decorating services to make their residences feel like a home. Read more about the partnership here.

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