It’s Truck Driver Appreciation Week, and to celebrate it, the crew at Fullbay took some time to think about everything we owe to truck drivers.
It’s a lot: Look around the room you’re sitting in. Much of your furniture was probably delivered to wherever you bought it by a truck driver. The phone or computer you’re reading this on was shipped via truck. Are you going to eat something today? Unless you picked it fresh from your garden (or went to a farmers market, we suppose) it arrived at your local supermarket via – you got it – a truck.
The men and women who drive big rigs all over the country see their fair share of difficulty on the road. They’re alone for long stretches of time, leaving their families behind to make sure our families have everything they need.
As with any job, trucking comes with potential troubles. If something happens to a driver – if they fall ill, or pass away – the family is often left struggling to bring them home.
That’s where Truckers Final Mile comes in.
They were formed entirely to help truckers reunite with their immediate families, covering travel, lodging, and ground transportation. Additionally, if the trucker in question has passed away, they will pay to get the remains home.
Founder Robert Palm is a trucker himself – in fact, when he got on the phone for an interview, he was calling from his truck! (Yes, he was pulled over.) We talked with him about his background, his thoughts about the industry, and how Truckers Final Mile got started.
Sometimes God just speaks to you.
Robert Palm has been trucking since March 1981, and in that many years of trucking, “You see a few things.”
His older brother, an over-the-road driver, lost his life in a collision in Pennsylvania; the family had to go get him and bring him home. In 2010, Robert’s appendix ruptured while he was in the truck; he had to drive himself to the hospital, as the company he drove for offered no assistance. In August of 2012, he stopped to help a truck driver who flipped her truck on the interstate. The conversation he had with her before putting her on a LifeFlight helicopter stuck with him: She wondered what her children would do without her.
On the way back to his truck, Robert says, he felt it: “God spoke to me. He said, ‘Robert, there’s something else you need to be doing.’”
There are over three million truck drivers in the USA. They maintain our supply lines through good weather and bad, often leaving behind their families for days or weeks at a time to bring food, medicine, clothing, toys, and just about everything else from one end of the country to the other. And yet if one was in an accident, incapacitated, or killed on the job, there were next to no services available for them or their families.
Robert needed to create something that would look after these men and women.
He got to work, and research dominated every moment he didn’t spend on the road. What did he need to do to create a nonprofit? What was already available for people of the industry?
There were no other organizations quite like what he had in mind. Even years later, in 2020, “There are no others that compare.”
He spent much of 2013 getting strategic plans together. In 2014 he filed the necessary paperwork and received an IRS determination letter of a 501c3, and Truckers Final Mile had officially merged onto the highway.
HOW THEY HELP
The mission of Truckers Final Mile is deceptively simple on paper: “To reunite North American truck drivers with their families in times of crisis.”
To meet that mission, they are running six programs (there are actually eight, but two are sidelined until finances improve). Their #1 program, as we’ve mentioned, is bringing home a truck driver who has passed away on the road.
All too often, companies leave it up to the families to retrieve their driver. This can lead to crippling expenses during an already emotionally devastating time. Truckers Final Mile intercedes on behalf of the family. Here’s how it works:
First, the family of the driver must get in touch with them, as Truckers Final Mile doesn’t have the finances to track down everyone who might need their services. Once Truckers Final Mile receives the call, it takes them about four hours to verify the information. They then make the necessary arrangements through funeral homes, mortuary services, and medical examiners.
For example, if a driver passes away in Salt Lake City, but the family wants to get them home to Tampa, they’ll decide which Tampa funeral home they want the driver brought to. After that’s determined, Truckers Final Mile will get in touch with that funeral home, tell them they’re covering the costs, and get the work underway. The charity itself doesn’t handle any remains; those are left in the hands of professionals.
Sounds simple, right? It’s not. Little tasks and expenses quickly pile up. Here are just a few of the costs Robert outlined for us:
- Cost of a plane ticket home
- Cost of driving the remains to an airport certified to transport them
- Organ/tissue donation and any necessary “repair work” to make remains presentable
- Transport to different facilities
And so on.
Think about the cost involved – and bear in mind the deceased may not have massive savings or a life insurance policy. And even if they do have life insurance, Robert cautions, “That is to replace the driver’s earnings. In most situations, that driver is the primary breadwinner.” Every penny the driver’s family can get from that life insurance will likely go toward keeping a roof over their heads.
By handling transport expenses, TFM can take some of the burden off those left behind.
As mentioned above, Truckers Final Mile currently runs six programs for truckers and their families. These include a mobility program to help retrofit the homes of truckers who have been injured or incapacitated while working. Truckers Final Mile will make arrangements to bring in and install wheelchair ramps and other improvements to help improve accessibility in a trucker’s home.
In the event of a driver’s death, they will also provide either grief counseling with their on-staff chaplain, or vouchers for 2-3 sessions with an independent grief counselor.
“If a child on social media sees [an article] about a truck careening off a ramp,” Robert says, “that might be the last image they have of their dad.” To that end, 2-3 sessions with a counselor seems vastly inadequate; he acknowledges that child will likely need years of help. But Truckers Final Mile is able to start that process, to get them in front of a professional who can assist them in their grief.
You can read about them in more detail on their website.
We’ve written extensively about the impact COVID-19 has had on the industry. From entirely new modes of repair shop operation to shuttered restaurants and rest areas that truckers can no longer access, just about everyone in the field has suffered.
Truckers Final Mile hasn’t escaped those pains. Robert puts it bluntly: “We’ve had a terrible year.”
The charity operates entirely on fundraising, which they do at truck shows and industry events. Typically they can attend at least a dozen a year.
We probably don’t need to point out that COVID-19 has wiped out virtually all of the year’s gatherings.
Truckers Final Mile has done what it can to adapt to the strange new circumstances we’re all living in. They attended a couple of smaller events – or tried to – one was wiped out by a snowstorm, another stopped by a rainstorm. Our fingers are crossed for a third event they’re planning to attend at the end of September.
If things don’t start opening up soon, they may face more dire financial consequences. But that’s where you can help.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
If we lived in a perfect world, we wouldn’t need a charity like Truckers Final Mile to help drivers get home.
Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world. We can only do the best we can with the one we do live in. And that’s what Truckers Final Mile is doing: Helping those it can.
Perhaps it’s fate that we’re going to press during Truck Driver Appreciation Week. What better way to show your appreciation than to donate to the charity that looks after them?
Here at Fullbay, we were moved by Robert’s efforts and the stories of the drivers and the families Truckers Final Mile has helped. That’s why, throughout the month of September, we’ll make a donation to Truckers Final Mile for every signup we receive.
Our truck drivers and their families make enormous sacrifices to keep this country fed, clothed, and happy. They’ve done it for decades, and continue to do it throughout the pandemic that has done a number on so many. They do a lot for us – it’s past time we did something for them.
“We want drivers to have the respect for the sacrifice they make,” Robert says. “If you [compare] it to a military deployment…we want the families to also have that respect. We’re doing the best we can with what we’ve got.”
You can help Truckers Final Mile do just that. If you’re not already a Fullbay customer, but you’ve thought about it and are ready to take the plunge, sign up now and you’ll directly support Truckers Final Mile. If you’re already a Fullbay user, make a donation anyway and know that you helped a dedicated driver get home.