British Columbia residents were still fleeing the path of wildfires in mid-July when Shane Reynolds took stock of the supplies on hand. “We’re storing 5,000 cots, 5,000 blankets, and other material,” said the operations manager at Landtran Logistics’ facility in Prince George. “We’ll be helping with local delivery of supplies when the Red Cross tells us what has to be done.”
Having grown up in B.C., then working around Fort McMurray, Alberta, Reynolds knows the devastation that wildfires can bring. With a job in trucking, he understands the challenge of moving relief supplies. He was even part of a team that set up distribution centers after Hurricane Katrina slammed into the U.S. in 2005. When disaster strikes, there are always goods to move and a need for trucks to move them.
Increasingly, Trucks for Change is the organization that helps to pull everything together. As the B.C. fires began to spread, the network of 65 carriers joined with the British Columbia Trucking Association and Canadian Trucking Alliance to identify companies that were ready to move freight or provide warehouse space near hard-hit communities, and join like-minded businesses like Landtran in the effort.
“That space is helping the Red Cross to quickly assist evacuees,” says Kimberly Nemrava, Canadian Red Cross vice president – B.C and Yukon.
“It’s nice to be in a position to help,” adds Pete Dalmazzi, who founded Trucks for Change in 2010. The concept emerged when he was looking for a charitable project to support after retiring as Ryder System’s general manager in Canada, and quickly realized that charities often struggled to find inexpensive ways to move donated goods.
Charitable need, meet industry expertise.
Participating carriers have collectively moved about 14 million pounds of freight overall, serving identified charities that have all been vetted through the Canada Revenue Agency, and not just in the wake of natural disasters like the B.C. fires. Donated food is moved regionally, provincially, and inter-provincially through a network of 500 food banks. Pallets of donated books have shipped to remote schools and communities through the First Book Canada literacy program. End-of-line fashion sourced through Brands for Canada has made its way to shelters helping women in distress. Winter clothing, sports equipment, and other supplies donated through Rotary International have been trucked to First Nations reserves in northern Ontario and Manitoba.
Much of the disaster-related work is done long before a fire or flood takes hold, too. The Red Cross relies on the network to feed supplies to three staging areas across the country, and also to repatriate unused goods once disasters are brought under control.
Individual carriers have long supplied such support on their own, of course. They still do. But Trucks for Change introduces some added structure to the contributions.
“There was very little recognition. There was very little employee engagement,” explains Dalmazzi, referring to charitable work he observed before founding the group. In the corporate world, businesses were increasingly finding ways to support charities that were a natural fit with their established brands. In contrast, fleets often limited themselves to helping out any charity that reached out by phone on a particular day. Charities, meanwhile, were blindly searching for any truck available, and often limiting searches to their home communities, failing to recognize the names of fleets that regularly drove by. “They were dialing for dollars,” he says, noting that available truck space can be the deciding factor behind a charity accepting a donation or not.
It all drove the vision for the organization. “Let’s do it in a way we can measure it, and take advantage of capacity. We can give something that’s surplus. We can add it up and talk about it. We can even engage employees to create employee loyalty,” Dalmazzi says. “This isn’t about having our hand out for free stuff. It’s about -giving with a strategic purpose.”
Often it aligns with personal stories as well. Norm Mackie of Mackie Moving Systems remembers driving through remote First Nations reserves in the 1970s, when relocating Ontario Provincial Police families. “I had a firsthand view of what really was happening. There’s a lot up there that needs help,” he says. Through Trucks for Change, his Oshawa, Ontario-headquartered fleet now picks up loads of donated goods, and interlines with Gardewine Transport for the final leg of the trips. “It’s whenever people can pull together whatever they have to ship,” he said. Whenever the need arises.
“It’s whatever you feel comfortable doing,” says Norm Sneyd, vice president – business development for Winnipeg-based Bison Transport, which most recently has shipped goods for the B.C. wildfire relief. And a company’s support can fit with any business model. While LTL carriers often reserve space for a couple of extra skids, his fleet has even moved intermodal freight for the Red Cross. “It might be on a lane that’s pretty convenient,” he explains, referring to the way opportunities can arise. “If we have an opportunity where we can donate service to an area, where we know we’re going to have a backhaul, it makes a lot of sense.”
Participating carriers use a central load board to find needs that have been identified by charities. “And every now and then you’ll get a call from Pete,” Sneyd adds. “He’s a pretty persuasive guy.”
“They are the who’s who,” Dalmazzi says of Trucks for Change supporters, rattling off a long list of well-known carriers that participate. Then he stops himself. Not because they don’t deserve the spotlight, but because he would hate to offend anyone by leaving them off the list. “We need many more,” Dalmazzi adds. “In my mind, we should be 200 carriers.”
All it takes is a $250 annual membership fee and proof that the business is licensed and insured.
“I think some people are concerned everything has to be done for free,” says Natalie Meyers of Mortrans, a truckload and dedicated service based in eastern Ontario. That’s not the case. “If you can offer it for free, that’s great. Offering it at cost for [charities], that’s huge, too. Their budgets are spread pretty thin.”
“It doesn’t stop people from doing what they’re doing now. Most carriers I know who are involved, they’re doing other charitable works,” she adds. But even when the other goods are moved, the network offers a place to report the good deeds and spread the word about the industry’s support to the general public.
“It’s nice to see the industry work together and do some good out there, and certainly get some recognition,” says Sneyd. “I really believe that the trucking industry as a whole does a lot – whether it’s donating transportation services or financial donations.”
Says Mackie: “If nothing else, it’s kind of a feel-good thing when you’ve gone home at night.”
To participate in Trucks for Change, visit www.trucksforchange.org.
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