Friday, December 21, 2012

JIT – for Christmas

The Trucker Charity Christmas Group met via conference call Thursday night, after weeks of working out the details of the 2012 fundraising. More than $9,500 was distributed to 19 selected families just in time for Christmas.

The families were chosen from 36 applications for help. Each application was carefully vetted, whittling down the number to 19 families. Most of the families were phoned last night in a group call “from the North Pole.”

Each family was informed they had been given $500 in the way of a Comcheck.

One wife was standing in the middle of a gas station when the call came from the trucker group. Three inches of snow was on the way, and she ran out for a gallon of milk. Her trucker husband was off the road after surgery and now had failed his vision test. Christmas was looking bleak.

Another driver had been hurt unloading a truck, and his wife was diagnosed with throat cancer. One was going through divorce, looking for work, trying to scrape up enough money for presents for his sons.

Family after grateful family shared their dilemmas.

“Oh my God, you guys are so wonderful. … There was NOT going to be a Christmas until now.”

“I never had anyone give me anything. … I don’t know what to say …”

“I’m gonna buy my kids some new clothes.”

“Now we can keep the electricity on!”

One woman said her young son had been looking forward to Christmas so much, then overheard her and her trucker husband talking about the money situation. “The look on my son’s face just killed me,” she said. “Now I can buy presents. I don’t know what to say. God bless you!”

As the Christmas Group worked its way down the list of calls to make, not only were some of the beneficiaries on the road, several group members were truckin’ as well. So in between the joyful reactions of the families contacted, mutterings from drivers could be heard.

“I just hit 32 degrees in the pouring rain, wish me luck.”

And “wow, this is some killer wind!”

A driver in North Carolina said, “Not too bad here, guys.”

Another reported, “I am sitting still and the wind is rockin’ the truck pretty bad.”

And then of course, “OK guys, who is next? Who’s playing Santa on the next one?”

The group has been raising funds and “playing Santa” since 2008. Since the project began five years ago, the Christmas Group has raised $46,500 and helped 78 needy trucking families.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Truckers deserve recognition for outcomes in Ohio, New York

America’s trucking professionals do their share of good deeds, and many of those deeds involve causes greater than themselves. We can’t thank truckers enough for their big hearts and for standing up for what’s right.

Truckers scored two victories in the past week, and deserve credit for the role they played in making those victories happen.

In this case, we’re talking about infrastructure – the nation’s roadways, the lifeblood of the economy – specifically the Ohio Turnpike and New York State Thruway.

Proposals in both states had the potential to rock transportation as we know it, and not in a good way: Ohio with its possible lease of the turnpike to private investors and New York with its proposed 45 percent toll increase on trucks. To say both plans would have had negative consequences for trucking and the economy is an understatement.

Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed and both proposals were scrapped in favor of alternatives involving bonds.

While the officials can take their share of credit for backing off and coming up with alternatives, it was the groundswell at the grassroots level that made the difference.

Truckers were on the front lines throughout, responding to calls to action, contacting their lawmakers and governors’ offices, attending meetings and filing comments. Truckers were not intimidated by the rhetoric or editorials that supported the proposals. In fact, those tend to make them work harder.

If you are among those who picked up a phone in the past few months in these two states, and you’ve spoken your mind about the value of infrastructure to the economy, and how toll hikes and oppressive proposals affect you and your ability to do business, you’re on our list of people to thank. You made the difference.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Wreaths Across America: One of those ‘glad I did that’ experiences

Photo by Sandi Soendker
I got to the junction of Missouri State Highway 13 and I-70 early on Saturday. I spotted a few bikers right off, standing by their polished motorcycles in the Pilot parking lot. They were there to escort the wreaths. The group soon swelled to maybe 50 bikes from area motorcycle clubs. When they rolled off on to Highway 13 and headed north to the veterans cemetery, I was right behind.

Too bad I couldn’t shoot photos and drive at the same time because the day started off with a cold slate sky that made a somber setting for the double column of bikes ahead of me. As the riders went single file and swung into the big entrance of the veterans cemetery, acres of perfectly aligned headstones in the background, it was a freeze-frame moment.

We were there to lay Christmas wreaths. At exactly the same time – noon, Saturday, Dec. 15 – about 450,000 balsam wreaths were being dedicated in hundreds of locations across the nation, and more overseas. The wreaths honor U.S. military personnel who lost their lives in the service of our armed forces. Maybe they died a long time ago in Europe or Asia. Maybe last month in Afghanistan.

In the 21 years the Wreaths Across America program has been in existence, volunteers have placed more than a million live wreaths on the final resting places of U.S. troops. This year, more than 110,000 wreaths alone were laid on graves in Arlington National Cemetery near DC.

The WAA story is one we’ve covered for several years. We have a number of OOIDA members who drive the trucks that move all those wreaths and some who are members of the Patriot Guard Riders who escort the trucks. For them, like me, it was a poignant experience.

Each Christmas, OOIDA sponsors 10 wreaths. Last year, our Land Line Copy Editor Elizabeth Andersen went to Fort Leavenworth to be a part of the WAA program. This year, I participated by attending the ceremony planned for the Missouri State Veterans Cemetery, 55 acres located north of Higginsville, MO.

Photo by Sandi Soendker
The purpose of the ceremony in Higginsville was not to place wreaths on every one of those headstones, but to present wreaths to all as a symbol of the nation’s respect for those who sacrificed their lives to protect our freedom.

As this small ceremony was unfolding in Missouri, I was reminded that at the same time, others were participating in a wreath laying at President Kennedy’s grave followed by a ceremony that would take place at the Tomb of the Unknowns (also known as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier).

I even thought about Normandy, where the remains of 9,387 American military heroes lie on 172 acres near Omaha Beach. As we bowed our heads in prayer in Higginsville, some clued-in Americans in Normandy were doing the same thing. Wreaths Across America also reaches France and other sacred pieces of foreign soil.

The box of greenery sent to this Higginsville location contained seven balsam wreaths with red ribbons, made by the Worcester Wreath Co. in Harrington, ME. The ceremony was smartly conducted by the American Legion, with assistance of the National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution. The seven wreaths were dedicated to the fallen members of the U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, Coast Guard, Air Force, Marine Corps, Merchant Marines and to the more than 93,000 MIAs and POWs.

It wasn’t a long ceremony. Soon after, the bikers roared out, the crowd dispersed, the American Legion rolled up their flags, and the Gold Star families left.

The overwhelming stillness was much like I thought it would be in Arlington and more than 700 locations across the nation. Quiet and remarkably graceful, the way it might be in Normandy and Luxembourg and 22 other places around the world that participate in the wreath-laying.

The only sound was the Stars and Stripes whipping in the wind. I stayed for a bit, suspended in the sanctity of the place.