Long-haul trucker Shelli Conaway has logged over 3 million miles in her nearly 30-year trucking career. She also coordinates disaster relief efforts from the cab of her truck.
Conaway of Lexington, Kentucky, runs a nonprofit group called Trucks with Room to Spare. Her group delivers critical supplies, including tarps, food and ice, to those hardest hit by natural disasters in the U.S.
On Saturday, she was trying to round up trucks with space in their trailers that could pick up supplies at distribution points across the country that are badly needed by survivors of wildfires that have ravaged communities along the West Coast and those impacted by Hurricanes Laura and Sally.
“It is chaotic at times, but I have some volunteers that are willing to help with social media to make sure we respond to the messages while I am on the road,” Conaway said.
Her company, D & C Transportation of Louisa, Kentucky, has been extremely supportive of her relief efforts.
“I recently went down and spent five days in Louisiana delivering supplies,” she said. “The owner only asked that I take care of the fuel.”
Donations have been sparse, partly because 13.6 million Americans that are still unemployed because of the coronavirus pandemic. Some motor carriers, including flatbed companies that were hard-hit by COVID-19, said they simply can’t afford to donate a driver, truck and trailer right now to deliver supplies.
“I find that truckers are generous and tend to step up in times of crisis,” Conaway told FreightWaves. “However, I understand that some just can’t give right now.”
Some truck drivers are willing to donate their time and equipment to pick up and deliver disaster supplies but need help covering their fuel costs.
While Conaway said she hates asking the public for donations to help cover fuel expenses, funds are badly needed to help hurricane and wildfire survivors.
Without cash donations, Conaway digs into her own pocket to pay drivers’ fuel costs. She has already set aside money from her recent paycheck to pay fuel expenses if more drivers step up to help.
“We still have our regular people that donate their time every year, but we need more truckers and companies to come forward and help, if they can,” she told FreightWaves.
Her organization’s immediate needs include trucks and trailers, including both flatbed and refrigerated trailers, as well as cash donations to cover fuel expenses.
“I find that truckers are generous and willing to use their skills to deliver goods that some of these communities desperately need, but need a little assistance to help them out,” Conaway said.
Donations down due to truck show cancellations
Show organizers canceled the Mid-America Trucking Show (MATS) and the Great American Trucking Show (GATS) in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic. These events were big fundraising and networking events for nonprofit organizations like Trucks with Room to Spare, Conaway said. Recently, GATS organizers canceled its in-person events in 2021 citing coronavirus uncertainty.
Stepping in to help
Truck driver Shelle Lichti and Shelli Conaway joined forces in 2018 after Hurricane Michael devastated the Florida Panhandle and parts of Georgia.
“I posted on social media after Hurricane Michael hit that I was heading over to Florida and had room in my trailer to haul plywood and other supplies,” Lichti told FreightWaves. “I found out that Shelli [Conaway] was doing something similar and we met up and decided to work together.”
Recently, Lichti, who is the founder of LGBT Truckers, was in Louisiana helping deliver supplies to survivors of Hurricane Laura, when she received a weather alert that Mobile, Alabama, was in the direct path of Hurricane Sally.
“I had spent several weeks in Louisiana with my reefer delivering three tractor-trailer loads full of ice, but when I found out my place was in the direct path of Hurricane Sally, I told all of the volunteers, ‘I love you all, but I’ve got to go,’” Lichti said.
While her property sustained some damage because of high winds and torrential rains, Lichti said she was lucky.
“We had a little damage here, but it’s nothing compared to others that are sleeping in parts of their homes with just a tarp over their heads,” Lichti said.
Litchti’s company, Hirschbach Motor Lines, headquartered in Dubuque, Iowa, has been supportive of her efforts to help survivors of natural disasters.
“When I use my truck to deliver relief supplies, the only thing Hirschbach asks is that I pay for my fuel,” she said. “It’s not cheap, but it’s worth it.”
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