The Volunteer Bus: Tailgate on wheels delivers happiness where it’s needed

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — From the outside, a traditional school bus had become a mobile Vols tailgate machine, then a vehicle for serving those in need. The bus is decked out like a former version of the Vols helmets, gray on the sides with an orange stripe down the center.

The license plate reads, “GO VOLS” and the back door is covered in orange and white checker print. The lyrics to “Rocky Top” are painted on the side and the horn itself plays 40 seconds of the iconic song.

You’ll hear The Volunteer Bus before it arrives. When you see it, you won’t look away.

It was never meant to be a community service space, in fact, it was built in 2017 by Wendy Boles and her family strictly for tailgating. The long-time season ticket holders spend Saturdays in the fall at Neyland Stadium, the bus was going to help them do that comfortably.

The 2017 season was one of the worst on record for Tennessee football, Boles wasn’t a happy fan.

“4-7, no athletic director, no head football coach, coming off that season was you know pretty depressing as a UT fan and then i just drove the bus,” Boles said.

On her way home from the last game, it was cold that year. Boles passed a man experiencing homelessness and stopped to offer help, a ride.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Wendy Boles stands inside The Volunteer Bus, filled Friday with bread to donate.

The bus that was once created to be the ultimate tailgating setup became The Volunteer Bus.

“He looked like he was in distress, he was limping. I wanted to do something to help, with his assistance. It was an eye opening experience,” Boles said.

She struck up a friendship with the man and she brought him food. She said she learned what he needed and “The Volunteer Bus” grew from there.

“Then word-of-mouth put me onto all this bread. Day old bread that was being thrown away, a friend of a friend started giving some to me to give out, to hand out,” said Boles.

She picks up pallets of bread every week. She said she feeds anywhere between 150-200 people from it. If she’s able, she gives everyone a jar of peanut butter, too.

“I’ll give bread to anybody. Doesn’t have to be homeless. You could have all the money in the world, but this still puts money back in your budget,” said Boles.

On the Friday before game day, Tennessee vs. Kentucky, her bus is filled with bread. Inside, it’s standing-room only.

The Volunteer Bus

Boles partners with local churches some weeks to distribute the bread, other times, she’ll stop when she sees someone she believes might benefit.

It doesn’t stop there.

She keeps gently used or donated children’s Vols jerseys and full-size footballs in the bus, too.

“Footballs are expensive. They can be anywhere from 15 to 20 dollars. Some families just can’t afford to spend that on a ball,” said Boles, “I have a son, every year I would get him a new Tennessee jersey. He’d be in the next size. So those I collect, I give them to kids.”

Toothpaste, toothbrushes, hygiene products, and greeting cards (filled out by the students of Grace Christian Academy) are other items stored in the bus. All of these, ready to be handed out for free to anyone who needs them.

“It’s kind of like the ice cream truck, but better because I have a variety,” said Boles.

She wants to expand what she’s doing by partnering with other groups in the community. The “Rocky Top” that plays loud from all sides of the bus, a sign she’s just around the corner.

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