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Couple donates 750 backpacks to St. Louis schools.

Volunteers from University City High School load backpacks for students Thursday, Aug. 1, 2019. Photo by Taylor Harris of the Post-Dispatch

UNIVERSITY CITY — Marc “Big Marc” Mares directed University City High School football and basketball players Thursday evening on where to hustle and where to toss.

But there weren’t any balls, and Mares isn’t even their coach.

He is a Lake Saint Louis man who, along with his wife, donated 750 backpacks filled with school supplies to University City, Ferguson and Pattonville schools.

Mares and University City athletes, students and staff spent over three hours loading backpacks, for all three districts, up and down the hallways of University City’s Ronald E. McNair Administration Building on Thursday evening. Each pink, blue, purple and green backpack was filled with notebooks, glue, binders, pens, paper and “everything else the kids need,” Mares said.

“If my father was a plumber, I would have been a plumber. But he was a community servant and he instilled that into me,” said Mares. “Instead of parents having to figure out how to shop around, every kid gets it at one stop.”

Gary Spiller, the executive director of student services and innovation for University City schools, said Mares’ donation is one of the largest school-supply gifts he could remember.

“This takes a lot of the stress off parents,” said Spiller, who was expecting about 150 backpacks. “It’s great for the kids who also volunteer. We are definitely grateful for Marc and his wife.”

Thursday evening provided an opportunity for football players to give back, said University City High School football coach Jason Wells.

“We play hard but we work harder, and that’s why we’re here,” Wells said as about 20 of his players tossed supplies among each other for the backpacks. “It’s good for them to know how and actually serve their community.”

Mares and his wife, Loretta, whom he calls the brains of the operation, also run a charity via a basketball tournament called Kids and Families in Need. The organization serves many communities in St. Louis and St. Charles counties and Mares’ hometown of Denver.

Families wanting to pick up a backpack in University City can come out to the city’s National Night Out from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesday at the McNair building.

Ferguson families can come pick up backpacks during Unity Weekend from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday at the Emerson Family YMCA.

Mares said Pattonville will make backpacks available Aug. 12.