A hot holiday meal is a special thing, but still may be taken for granted by most Americans. For truck drivers on the road this time of year, a home-cooked meal is often elusive.
There are some folks – all volunteers — who are working to change that.
A few days less than a year ago, a modest effort to bring some holiday cheer and a hot meal to truckers away from their families began. A total of 31 meals were delivered to appreciative drivers last Thanksgiving. As the effort gained steam, more volunteers fed many more drivers.
This year, organizers of Meals For 18 Wheels are hoping to increase the number of drivers they feed.
Crystal Schoonmaker, a trucker’s wife from Chattanooga, Tenn., is a driving force behind Meals For 18 Wheels. Last Thanksgiving she delivered 31 meals to drivers over a 23-hour period in a one-woman marathon.
Schoonmaker said that by Christmas, she recruited some helpers and 289 drivers – and five lucky pets – had meals on Christmas. Aside from the home-cooked meals, Schoonmaker said six pizzas were delivered to drivers and one volunteer handed out bags of cookies to 40 drivers.
This holiday season Schoonmaker says Meals For 18 Wheels has four days scheduled at Thanksgiving and again at Christmas to reach out to drivers who would like a meal.
Meals For 18 Wheels will be delivering on Thanksgiving, Thursday, Nov. 27, through Sunday, Nov. 30. Christmas distribution will be from Christmas Day, Dec. 25, through Sunday, Dec. 28.
“We’ve progressed tremendously in the last year,” says Schoonmaker. “We have nearly 500 volunteers and countless drivers on the (group’s Facebook) page.
“When we are not helping drivers with a holiday meal, we will help a driver who finds themselves in an unforeseen circumstance, such as being broke down, stuck at a customer without access to food and a temporary financial setback.”
Drivers can fill out a form from Meals For 18 Wheels if they want to be included in the group’s efforts. Schoonmaker said all information is held in strict confidence.
Then, that driver is matched with a volunteer who can help.
Schoonmaker says the group goes to great lengths to ensure the safety of everyone involved.
“When we pair a driver and volunteer,” she says. “We will exchange the proper information for them to arrange a meeting. We do not encourage anyone to knock on truck doors and we ask that volunteers and drivers always meet inside of the facility the driver is at or in front/around other individuals. This is for added safety for the driver and volunteer.”
Schoonmaker’s desire to help truckers comes as no surprise. She said she grew up in a trucking family and rode with her dad often. Her husband James is a first generation driver of 12 years currently working at PGT.
Proving that many hands helps make for lighter work, Schoonmaker says there are several other people who are key to the efforts of Meals For 18 Wheels. They include:
- Sarah Bridwell, whose husband Jeff is a trainer for Prime and one of the first drivers that was fed last Thanksgiving.
- Kevin Stebbins, a chef in Illinois.
- Rose Gleason, a trucker’s wife from Georgia.
- Delphina Hunt, a driver from Texas.
“We know what it is like for these drivers who can not make it home for the holidays or the ones who find themselves having a run of bad luck,” she says. “That’s why we volunteer our time and shuffle our family lives to help the drivers.”
Schoonmaker said Meals For 18 Wheels is about more than filling drivers’ bellies. For some, it’s about filling their minds with ways to cope with the demands of life on the road. That’s especially true for drivers who might be new to the profession and may not know some of the tricks of the trade.