OKEECHOBEE — Former Okeechobee County school bus driver Eric Christenson is walking around Lake Okeechobee in an effort to raise funds to buy school supplies for local children.
Christenson drove bus number 11 for ten years and said he loved it. "It was one of the best jobs ever. The kids and parents liked me, and I liked them," said Christenson.
When covid struck, Christenson made the difficult decision not to go back to work as a bus driver. Because he was in an age group that was more susceptible to the virus, he gave up his bus. He missed the interaction with the kids though and last year, he went back to work with the school system, but this time as a school crossing guard. Last year, he was at Everglades Elementary School, but when school starts in August, he will be working the main gate at the high school.
Christenson has always been an advocate for children, and over the years, noticed that there are lots of kids who got on his bus with a brand new backpack filled with all the required supplies, but there were also those who were lucky to have an old ragged backpack or bag. "I want to help those kids," he said. He decided to start a fundraiser to raise money to buy school supplies for children who otherwise might not be able to have them.
A walker anyway, Christenson has been itching to give walking all the way around the lake a try. "I walk 3-4 miles every day, but I have never walked this far before," he said. He thought it would be great to combine his love of walking with his love for children and started a GoFundMe. His walk is primarilly to raise awareness about the fundraiser. Anyone who would like to donate can donate to the GoFund Me, linked below or can drop off funds or supplies at the Big Lake Baptist Association office located at 210 N.E. 7th Street. The office is open Monday through Thursday between 7 a.m. and 2 p.m.
Although the temperature lately has been very high, Christenson said this is the only time of the year he has enough free time to be able to do the walk.
Tuesday, July 12 was Christenson's starting day. He began at J&S Fish Camp and planned to walk to his own home, carrying everything in a backpack. The heat got to him though, and he wound up changing his plans a little bit. Instead of walking all the way there, he had someone pick him up and take him home so he could revise his plan. The next morning, the heat index was again very high, and he decided to postpone getting back on the road for another day as he rigged up a cart to put all his supplies in. On Thursday morning, he started where he left off and began walking again, this time spending the night on the trail in a pup tent.
"It was so peaceful," he said. "I've got everything I need in my cart." Christenson said he has several back up batteries and a solar charger for his phone. He carries plenty of water and enough food to get him through to the next stop. Each morning, he will cook eggs on his small camp stove before getting back on the trail. "I know where each stop is located," he said. "Every Circle K and every Dollar General. I even have a couple motels marked and plan to stop at those on the way. Although he will mostly be eating from his supplies, he will occasionally stop along the way.
The walk is about 125 miles and Christenson said it should take him about 11 days. His plan is to end back at J&S Fish Camp on July 23 but if it takes a little longer, he is OK with that. "I'm having a good time," he said. "I'm not in a rush." as of Friday around noon, he has walked about 30 miles.
"If you see my little cart with the yellow umbrella, give me a honk!"