As search-and-rescue efforts continue in areas decimated by Hurricane Ian, nonprofit trucking and logistics companies are stepping up to help those hardest hit by the Category 4 storm.
Semi-retired truck driver David Otte of Cedar Grove, Wisconsin, said he felt called to help Ian survivors after receiving a message on Mudflap, a discount fuel app for owner-operators.
“This message popped up on the screen one day about helping with Hurricane Ian and I thought, well, the Lord spoke to me so it was time to give him a hand,” Otte told FreightWaves.
Mudflap said it was donating a portion of its proceeds to a nonprofit disaster relief group, Trucks with Room to Spare, through Friday.
After speaking with the nonprofit group’s president, Shelli Conaway-Waugh, a 30-year-trucking veteran from Lexington, Kentucky, about ways to help, Otte decided to organize a supply drive in his home state.
On Wednesday, he dropped a trailer at the Piggly Wiggly in Oostburg, Wisconsin. Once the trailer, donated by De Master Trucking of Cedar Grove, is full, Otte plans to drive it to the Fort Myers, Florida, area, to deliver the collected supplies, including pet food, feminine hygiene products, laundry detergent and toys, among other items.
Called to serve
After graduating from college in the 1970s, Otte became a truck driver for De Master for a few years before leaving to join the family’s school bus and motorcoach business, which he eventually owned. A few years ago, he sold the business to his grandson but grew bored of retirement life and decided to get back into trucking part time.
“I bought a truck and trailer and started hauling grain to area cooperatives for about three years,” Otte said. “Then I called the company I drove for back in the ’70s, De Master, which is still in business, and I asked the company if they had any work.”
Now, he hauls canned goods, cheese and other goods regionally for De Master three days a week.
Otte said he will cover his fuel costs to drive the goods to Florida once the trailer is full.
“I’m not disadvantaged financially and this is a way I can help,” he said.
Convoy of Hope, a faith-based nonprofit headquartered in Springfield, Missouri, has more than 50 trucks already on the ground or en route to the disaster zone, according to Ethan Forhetz, national spokesperson for the charity.
Forhetz and Convoy of Hope volunteers were in Fort Myers last week. The group has set up drive-through locations at area churches where Ian survivors can drive up and volunteers will load their vehicles with critical supplies, including food, water and ice.
“We expect a total of 75 to 100 [truckloads] before this disaster response is completed,” Forhetz told FreightWaves.
So far, Convoy of Hope has distributed nearly 340,000 pounds of supplies to Ian survivors.
Forhetz said Convoy utilizes volunteer drivers all year so when there is a disaster like Hurricane Ian, his group “already has the relationships to work from.”
“Our volunteers are incredible at giving their time to deliver hope to people who need it,” he said via email. “We couldn’t do what we do without our amazing volunteer truck drivers.”
Trucking gives back
Conaway-Waugh said donations are slowly rolling in to help Hurricane Ian survivors, but more help is needed to ensure supplies are delivered to areas hardest hit by the storm.
Besides donating a portion of its proceeds to help Trucks with Room to Spare, Mudflap also provides Conaway-Waugh with fuel credits to help offset her nonprofit group’s transportation costs.
She is urging others who want to hold supply drives in their communities to reach out to her organization to see what supplies are needed.
“Critical supplies will be needed for months to come as many Ian survivors have lost everything,” Conaway-Waugh told FreightWaves.
Conaway-Waugh, who hauls oversized loads of aluminum coils weighing up to 120,000 pounds, runs the nonprofit from the truck of her cab.
While her group helps buy fuel for truck drivers delivering hurricane-relief supplies, Conaway-Waugh said she is struggling to find volunteer drivers with their own equipment who can help out.
More ways to help
On the group’s website, she has a list of rules and regulations for volunteers who have collected disaster relief supplies to ensure her group can safely accept the shipments.
“We have some retired truck drivers with CDLs wanting to help out during Hurricane Ian, but they don’t have their trucks or trailers anymore,” she said. “We rely on volunteers.”
Other drivers want to know what the loads pay, which isn’t in the budget for her group’s limited resources. Many times, Conaway-Waugh funds the disaster-relief trips with her own money if financial donations are scarce.
“There’s no way we can compete with drivers being paid $2,000 a day to sit on FEMA loads of ice,” she said. “We need drivers or trucking companies willing to help us out and pick up collected supplies around the country.”
Click here for more articles by Clarissa Hawes.
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