Truck driver Robert Palm started a charity nearly seven years ago, Truckers Final Mile, to help desperate trucking families bring their deceased loved ones home who are often thousands of miles away when tragedy strikes.
Palm, a veteran, served in the 101st Airborne Division of the United States Army from 1975 to 1980. He’s been trucking for nearly 40 years.
“Our mission is to reunite North American truck drivers and their family in times of crisis,” Palm told FreightWaves.
In 2020, Palm’s charity, a 501(c)(3), helped 47 drivers’ families pay the expenses when a trucker experienced a fatal heart episode, stroke or died in a highway crash. Ten of the 47 truckers Palm’s organization helped bring home this year were veterans.
“This is a way I can help my family out on the road,” he said. “These drivers are my brothers and sisters.”
Since 2014, Palm and his volunteer board have helped nearly 300 truckers’ families.
Pandemic impacts trucker charities like Truckers Final Mile
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 this was his group’s primary source of fundraising.
“It’s been touch and go this year,” he told FreightWaves. “Compared to previous years, 90% of 2020 we’ve operated with no reserve. But, when we hear of a deceased driver and a family contacts us for help, we find a way to help thanks to our phenomenal donor base, which has carried us this year.”
While some carriers step up to help the families of truck drivers who die in their rigs because of a medical condition or fatal crash, many do not.
That’s because there’s no federal mandate requiring carriers to pay the expenses when a driver dies on the road for any reason, Palm said.
Instead, many carriers refer distraught families to Truckers Final Mile to bear the expenses to bring their truckers home.
“We find a way to do it, but we count on some amazing groups that hold fundraisers to help us continue,” Palm said.
Currently, an online photo auction is underway with all of the proceeds benefitting Truckers Final Mile. The auction ends Nov. 21 to bid on some scenic photos taken across the United States and Canada.
Sleigh Bells and Santa
Anyone who has lost a parent at any age knows the first holiday without them is tough.
This year alone, 29 children lost a trucking parent that Palm’s group helped get home.
His organization founded Sleigh Bells and Santa to ensure these children have a present under the tree this Christmas.
“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.”
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.
“We just want these kids to know we haven’t forgotten about them,” Palm said.
College education savings accounts
Palm said the organization wants to help these children long-term by establishing 50 $500 529 college savings plans for children, age 18 or younger, who have lost a trucker parent that Truckers Final Mile helped bring home.
However, the organization needs sponsors to help make this wish come true.
“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.”
Holding on to hope: Trucker’s young son battles terminal brain cancer
Transportation, ag industry grant terminally ill boy’s birthday wish
Supply chain reports no disruption after StopTheTires2020 protest