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B.C. food hauler puts brakes on waste

VICTORIA, B.C. – A Victoria, B.C. trucking company co-owner with a passion for helping others has been recognized for an innovative charitable initiative that not only helps feed those in need, it also helps prevent perfectly good food...

VICTORIA, B.C. – A Victoria, B.C. trucking company co-owner with a passion for helping others has been recognized for an innovative charitable initiative that not only helps feed those in need, it also helps prevent perfectly good food from being wasted.

The award, issued by the Minerva Foundation for B.C. Women, was presented to Cold Star Freight Systems’ Jennifer Hawes last fall, for her “philanthropy, service and volunteering in the community.” The way Hawes tells it, however, her good work isn’t done for the applause – it’s just part of how she sees doing business and living life.

Hawes not only co-owns Cold Star with her husband, Kelly, but handles HR duties there as well, and she makes it sound as if all her good work isn’t really a big deal. Yet the road she took to becoming a Cold Star executive and honoured philanthropist straddled the country, from west coast to east coast and back again, in the process dropping her and her husband into an industry they’d never even considered to be a career path.

“Trucking came to us,” Hawes says of their long and winding road. “There’s no way as a young woman I ever thought that this would be the industry that I’d be working in.”

The Hawes’ journey to the world of trucking began in the early ’90s when husband Kelly decided to end his career serving in the military in New Brunswick and try something else.

But what? This is where fate, blind luck, or maybe a kind of “reverse Murphy’s Law,” came to the rescue. Kelly Hawes’ father had been a long-haul truck driver and he and Kelly’s brother brought their trucks down east and used them to help move the Hawes and four other military families who’d decided to leave the gig at that time as well.  

“We sold everything we didn’t need,” Jennifer says, “and we packed ourselves and four other families – all of whom were being dropped off across Canada – in the truck. And we came home.”

The Hawes and their two children piled into their car and returned to Victoria. They needed work there, of course, and it seemed that an obvious path was for Kelly to get his Class 1 licence.

“My father-in-law took Kelly under his wing and in three weeks he had his licence and was working long-haul. And then it dawned on us that one of the reasons (for getting out of the military) was that my husband was gone eight to 10 months of the year, and now he’s a long-haul truck driver and is gone forever! So we knew that wasn’t going to work; it wasn’t what we’d traded in for,” Jennifer recalls.

As it turned out, Kelly didn’t like the job anyway. “He’s a true extrovert and being by yourself in a truck hours on end didn’t really suit his personality,” Jennifer says, “so he came back and begged the company for any other position there. And they hired him as an office clerk for $10 an hour.”

That was in 1993, and it proved to be another humbling experience for the family as the Hawes began to realize that Kelly’s military career didn’t transfer to civilian jobs very well.

“It was a huge learning lesson,” Jennifer says. “There isn’t a lot of call to shoot down airplanes in the civilian world. So he worked as an office clerk in the trucking company for $10 an hour during the day and he’d come home, eat dinner, get a couple of hours sleep, and then do night shift at the Salvation Army for $8 an hour.”

Jennifer, who taught pre-school in an earlier life, pitched in as well. “I managed to get on with a not-for-profit, pretty much doing similar work with young families. It wasn’t great money but at least we were making ends meet.” Then one day, out of the blue, the dispatcher of the trucking company at which Kelly worked “up and walked out and quit and no one else was there, so my husband walked up to the dispatch office and started dispatching the trucks,” Jennifer says. “Someone had to do it.”

It fit him like the proverbial glove. “Logistics and moving things,” Jennifer notes, “that’s one thing you learn in the military.”
They weren’t out of the woods yet, though, because the company wasn’t very stable. But Jennifer says fortune stepped in again when Kelly’s head was hunted by a refrigerated trucking company, putting the couple’s feet onto the path to where they are today.

“We call it the University of Trucking,” Jennifer says. “There is no education that Kelly could’ve gotten any better than being supervisor and then terminal manager (at the company).” It was there that he learned food was being improperly handled, not just at that company, but, “industry-accepted practices like things not being refrigerated properly,” Jennifer says.

This didn’t sit well with the Hawes, and Kelly couldn’t work like that.

“He couldn’t marry his morals and ethics with the industry,” Jennifer says, “and in the only time of his life, he basically quit. We looked at each other and wondered what we’d done, because we just literally couldn’t live with what he was having to direct people to do.”

The solution presented itself when Jennifer’s uncle, a Chile-based businessman, asked them why they didn’t just do it themselves?

“We didn’t have two cents to rub together,” Jennifer says, “but he was kind enough to give us a loan and Cold Star was born. We rented a 2,000 sq.-ft. refrigerated warehouse just outside of Victoria and managed to have one owner/operator agree to join us, and we begged and borrowed until we managed to get enough financing together to buy one tractor and one trailer.”
Kelly drove the truck as well as performing the duties of dispatcher and salesman. “We just did whatever we had to,” Jennifer says.

Though she was still doing social work to ensure some money came in, Jennifer also threw herself into the young company.
“I would come in and pay bills, basically run the company with him,” she says, “and then we got our first contract and knew we were on to something. We knew we were going to be accountable for the way we handled the food, we were going to put monitoring on our trailer so that you could tell what the temperature was regardless of where that trailer was. We were going to do it much differently than it had been done before.”

It turned out to be their niche, and Cold Star picked up momentum from there. They couldn’t afford to buy land and build their own warehouse, but they managed to find land and a landlord willing to build to suit their needs.

“We built a specialized warehouse, and put the tracking systems on the trailers, and started to grow our company,” Jennifer says, noting proudly that they now have 105 employees, four terminals and yearly revenues in the $12 million ballpark.

The Minerva foundation’s award resulted from an initiative Jennifer Hawes calls the Community Food Project (CFP) which ensures that some food that would be discarded otherwise for whatever reason, goes to help feed people instead.

Jennifer got in touch with several not-for-profits, including the one she’d worked for, and offered them the food.

“They were thrilled,” she says, “because not-for-profits run on tight dollars and they all have programs that support what we call, unfortunately, the ‘working poor’ – so you have mom and dad working and, with the cost of living, having a hard time making ends meet.”

And that’s how the program started, though as it turned out it isn’t just cast-off food that finds its way to people in need. Hawes’ “first and only consistent supplier” was a company that deals with organic fruits and vegetables.

“They don’t give me their leftovers,” she says, “They donate fresh, Grade A produce every month because they believe in it so much. They’re an amazing organization.” Hawes adds that donation to the food she has on-hand – damaged boxes, overages, and the like – and augments all that at her own expense by shopping for items that haven’t been donated.

Hawes says she buys a minimum of $1,000 worth of food a month. The collected bounty goes to a “neighbourhood house” and “they divide it up amongst themselves and everyone gets their fair share,” she says. “It’s had a tremendous impact and it’s fed a tremendous amount of people. And it’s saved food from going to the landfill when it should be going to helping people who need it.”

The media coverage generated by the Minerva Foundation’s award has paid off for Jennifer’s CFP program. “Within 24 hours of an article coming out in the Vancouver Sun I had two new suppliers call up and say they probably won’t be able to donate every month, but they’ll give this month and if they have anything more coming down the pike they’ll send it my way.”

As for the attention she’s earning for her reputation as a philanthropist, Hawes is mostly dismissive.

“It’s great to have the recognition,” she says, “but those people getting that food, those are the real winners and that’s what’s so exciting. It’s just great.”

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