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Trucker charity faces bleak future without donations

Pandemic impacts trucker charities like Truckers Final Mile

Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves

A trucker charity that helps bring deceased drivers home to their families is facing a bleak future without new sponsors and donations.

Truck driver Robert Palm established the nonprofit organization Truckers Final Mile seven years ago to help truckers’ families bring their loved ones home after they experienced a fatal health episode or were involved in a deadly crash. 

Since 2014, Palm and his volunteer board have helped nearly 300 truckers’ families.

Sleigh Bells and Santa

Among them, the 54 deceased drivers whom Truckers Final Mile helped get home in 2020 had 37 children who will experience their first Christmas without a parent.

Palm said all of the children will have a present under the tree on Christmas morning thanks to donations raised through the organization’s Sleigh Bells and Santa group’s efforts. The first round of packages were mailed out on Saturday, he said.

“This is the first Christmas without mom or dad,” Palm said. “We know a toy can’t replace the loss of their parent, but maybe it can occupy their time for a while.”

Photo: Robert Palm/Facebook

Christmas can be a stressful time anyway, he said. But for a newly single parent whose truck driver spouse was the primary or sole breadwinner, it can be incredibly difficult.

However, his goal is to help these kids succeed long term by establishing 50 $500 529 college savings plans for children, age 18 or younger, who have lost a trucker parent whom Truckers Final Mile helped. 

“We want to do something that can help set these kids up for the future,” Palm said. “Over the years, family members could continue to contribute to the account and make it grow to help these children pay for college.”

His organization just needs sponsors to make it happen. 

“We’ve talked to a few companies that have donated some money to help us get started, but we are still a long way from meeting our goal,” Palm said.

He said it’s not too late to donate to help the group establish college savings accounts for these families. 

“We have to send applications out and they have to return them to us so we will still take donations until February,” Palm said. “We just want these kids to know we haven’t forgotten about them,” Palm said.

Truckers Final Mile operating on shoestring budget in 2020

While Palm’s group seems to find a way to help grieving families, the organization’s funds are dwindling.

Truckers Final Mile and countless other trucker charities to help drivers and their families have taken a massive financial hit in 2020. The coronavirus pandemic forced all of the major truck shows to cancel in 2020. Most have already called off truck shows for 2021.

Palm said the truck shows were his group’s primary source of fundraising.

While donations have slowed to a trickle in 2020 without the truck shows, the demand for his organization’s services has not.

In 2020, Palm’s group has helped 54 families who tragically lost a truck driver who was out on the road. The organization handles the logistics and transportation costs to bring the drivers home to their final resting places.

His group is operating on a shoestring budget in 2020. Palm said Truckers Final Mile, a 501(c)(3) charity, has operated with no reserve for most of 2020 compared with previous years. 

“I know distribution of COVID-19 vaccines is underway, but there’s still a lot that isn’t known yet about what will happen in 2021,” Palm told FreightWaves. “Our finances are hanging in the wind right now with donations being down, but the demand for our services keeps rising.”

Some company drivers told FreightWaves they had no clue their motor carriers were not legally required to pay the transportation costs to bring their bodies home if a tragedy strikes while they are out on the road. On the other hand, owner-operators said they are extremely aware of the financial toll this would take on their families if a catastrophic event occurred.

While some carriers step up to help the families of truck drivers who die in their rigs because of a medical condition or crash, many do not, Palm said.

“That’s because there’s no federal mandate requiring carriers to pay the expenses when a driver dies on the road for any reason,” he said.

One driver stated that some trucking companies are quick to retrieve their equipment and freight, but leave the families “to deal with the logistics of these tragedies.”

Instead, many carriers refer distraught families to Truckers Final Mile to bear the expenses to bring their truckers home.

The logistics and transportation expenses for each driver vary, Palm said, depending on how far from home a driver is when tragedy strikes. When Palm sends out a call for help on social media to get a driver home, a loyal group of truckers chip in what they can to assist. 

“Our phenomenal donor base has carried us this year,” he said. “We always find a way to help, but we count on some amazing people that hold fundraisers to help us continue,” Palm said.

If you have a story to share, please send an email here.

Read more articles by FreightWaves Senior Editor Clarissa Hawes.
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Clarissa Hawes

Clarissa has covered all aspects of the trucking industry for 14 years. She is an award-winning journalist known for her investigative and business reporting. Before joining FreightWaves, she wrote for Land Line Magazine and If you have a news tip or story idea, send her an email to [email protected]