Dishing up hot meals for truck drivers a way to show ‘deepest appreciation,’ says Salvation Army

As long as the need is there…that’s what we plan to do,’ said Maj. Rene Loveless

Volunteers at the Salvation Army are renewing their efforts to provide hot meals to truck drivers finding it hard to access some services on Newfoundland and Labrador’s roads.

The Salvation Army first started the effort in March 2020 at the start of the pandemic, serving over 2,600 meals between March and June to drivers coming on and off the ferries in Port aux Basques.

It’s a project that has restarted now that the province finds itself moved back to Alert Level 5, and some restaurants and rest stops have closed or limited services, with some drivers saying life on the road is getting tougher.

“Some places will let us walk in to get food and coffee and stuff like that, other places will not,” driver Adam Leyte told CBC News last week. “We’ve already lost access to a lot of washroom facilities.”

After hearing about the need for a hot meal, and a conversation with the provincial government, Salvation Army Maj. Rene Loveless said a team of volunteers came together quickly to reopen the commercial kitchen at the Port aux Basques church building, where they started putting together the first meals on Sunday.

“The first meal today is a turkey dinner with all the trimmings,” Loveless said Sunday.

“The thing about it is these meals are always very hearty and substantial. We want the truckers to really enjoy these meals, and certainly be encouraged by what we’re doing. We see this as a way of showing our deepest appreciation for the essential service that they’re providing to our province at such a time as this.”

Health Minister John Haggie commented on the feeling some truck drivers have voiced that they’re being blamed for the province’s COVID-19 situation, saying that drivers “are not our enemy” and are providing an essential service.

Loveless said this year’s meal team came together quickly after the move to Alert Level 5, following a conversation with the provincial government about the need to support those working on the roads in the province.

“By helping the truckers, we do feel that we’re really helping all Newfoundlanders and Labradorians who rely on the service that they provide. We truly appreciate what the truckers are doing through this pandemic,” he said.

Loveless said the team of over 50 volunteers put in more than 3,300 hours into the effort overall since the start of the pandemic. The amount of meals volunteers serve varies from day to day, Loveless said, as they work with Marine Atlantic to figure out how many truck drivers are booked on each crossing.

Volunteer Darlene Collier brings a hot meal, one of dozens prepared each day, to a truck driver last April. Volunteers served over 2,600 meals to truck drivers last year. (Submitted by Rene Loveless)

“We never ran out of meals. We came very close sometimes to using up each and every meal that we prepared, but we certainly were able to meet the need each and every time.”

He said meals will continue for as long as there is a need for them, and he hopes they can keep stomachs full and spirits high as truck drivers continue to provide an essential service.

“We did hear a lot of wonderful feedback last year on how much it meant to the truckers, and also members of their families to know they were being taken care of in this way. And that’s a good thing,” he said.

“As long as the need is there … that’s what we plan to do.”