Not only do truckstop and travel plaza operators serve professional drivers and the traveling public, they serve their communities as well. Each year, operators donate their time, money and resources to charitable organizations, churches and schools in their community.
Over the past three years, Russell’s Travel Center in Glen Rio, N.M., has provided nearly 100,000 meals for the hungry. The location collects donations through its car museum. While admission to the museum is free, the location asks visitors place donations to feed the hungry in a kettle it has set up within the museum.
Mark Russell, director of operations at Russell’s Travel Center, said the museum features his dad’s collection of cars along with thousands of other items, including Elvis Presley and Roy Rogers memorabilia, antique pedal cards and die cast toys. Russell said the idea to use the museum to generate funds for those in need belongs to his mom, Barbara Russell. So far, professional drivers and the traveling public have embraced the cause.
“We get a lot of drivers that come through and say, ‘I’d like to make donations but I’m never anywhere around.’ We have a lot of regular drivers and other travelers that come through and look and say they want to donate,” Russell said.
Russell said the location has contributed over $118,000, which has surpassed his expectations.
“If somebody would have asked me what I would have thought we’d collect in two to three years, I probably would have said $10,000. It is surprising how generous people are,” he said.
Every penny collected through the museum is passed along to two local charitable groups that provide meals. The groups also provide documentation that the money is used for meals, which Russell said is important.
“If we say we’re going to use the money for something, that is what we need to do. We are just stewards of other people’s money,” Russell said.
In addition to feeding the hungry through the car museum, Russell’s Travel Center has a needy traveler fund to assist travelers that have broken down or need extra assistance.
“We had a paraplegic come in here and he was having car problems. We were able to get his vehicle taken care of and get him gas and food and get him down the road,” Russell said.
The location also hosts an annual car show as a fundraiser for the local fire department. “The state funds their equipment and uniforms, but when they’re working out on a fire, they have to buy their own meals. They might be on a fire for 12 hours,” Russell said, adding that each year the car show gets bigger and bigger. It is now on its third annual show.
The owners of Iowa 80 Truckstop and CAT Scale Company in Walcott, Iowa, have always been big supporters of their community, and they recently created a fund to award grants to groups that have a presence in Iowa. The fund awards grants twice a year and most recently gave $6,550 in grants to eight groups in July.
Iowa 80 wanted to involve employees in deciding which groups should receive the funds. “We have a panel of employees and we tried to make it representative of the makeup of our organization,” said Heather DeBaillie, a spokesperson for Iowa 80 Group.
DeBaillie added that employees from every profit center at the truckstop as well as employees from CAT Scale sit on the panel. “As we get near the deadline we get together and review all of the applications. Everyone comments on them and it is a two- to three-hour meeting,” she said.
As a BP fuel retailer, Iowa 80 is also able to direct grant money from BP to community charities. “We just awarded money to the Walcott School and this is the third time we’ve been able to do that to help them fund smart boards for the classrooms,” DeBaillie said.
Iowa 80’s staff is also heavily involved with Junior Achievement. “You teach economic and business information, but it is age appropriate for kindergarten through sixth grade. You talk about basic concepts of money, identifying money and how can you make money. If you’re at the high school level, you’re creating a mini business,” DeBaillie said.
Bob Ryan, Atlanta South 75, Jackson, Ga., also is a big supporter of his community. In September he hosted his 18th annual golf tournament for youth recreation. “We support the football, basketball and cheerleading programs. We’ve given over $350,000 to youth recreation in Butts County,” Ryan said.
Atlanta South also supports the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life, the Empty Stocking Fund that provides Christmas gifts for children in need and holds four blood drives each year.
Late last year, the Wyatt brothers, co-owners of the Geo. H. Green Oil Company of Fairburn, Ga., raised more than $26,000 in just 27 days in the company’s annual fund raising drive. The company donated all of the funds to three local charities—Greater Atlanta’s Empty Stocking Fund, Fairburn’s In His Great Name Ministry and Newnan’s Welcome House, which is a shelter for women in need.
Love’s Travel Stops holds an annual in-store fundraiser for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. For one month out of the year, customers and employees can donate $1, $5 or $20 for a paper heart icon at the register to help Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. The money is used to fund vital treatments, equipment, therapy programs and charitable care.
Love’s employees get involved in the event to help spur donations. Dewayne Juarez, general manager of the Love’s Travel Stop in Tucumcari, N.M., even went so far as to promise to kiss a pig in public if his staff doubles last year’s donations. If staff can triple last year’s donations, Juarez said he will wear a dress for an entire day. As part of its fundraising efforts, the Tucumari location is holding a golf tournament and a softball tournament in addition to hosting bake sales and burrito sales throughout the campaign.
Since 1999, Love’s Travel Stops have raised more than $7 million through their campaign and it’s associated events, such as bake sales, cook-offs, pumping gas for kids and other employee-driven events.
TravelCenters of America has thrown its support to the St. Christopher Driver Development & Relief Fund—a charitable group that supports professional drivers in need. “Trucker-based charities struggle. Even with a very good mission, they struggle. We wanted to focus our efforts on something we could make successful,” said Tom Liutkus, a spokesman for TravelCenters of America.
This is TA’s fourth year supporting the group and to date locations have raised $1 million for the fund, which helps drivers who, through medical crises, can no longer drive or have medical and home bills piling up. “We decided we want to make it more about our customers,” Liutkus said. “We’re in the truckstop business. We serve truckers. These are the people who make us successful.”
TA and Petro locations sell rubber wristbands for $1 for about a month each year. The large sum of money speaks volumes to the heart of the American trucker, Liutkus said, adding that the fund has helped over 830 drivers in some way.
There are several other charities TA/Petro assists during the year, including the Trucker’s Charity, which helps drivers who may have been stranded when their fleet went bankrupt. “Somebody will come and pick up the truck, but that driver has no way to get back home. There is a group of drivers that have created a charity to pick up those drivers and get them home,” Liutkus said.
During last year’s holiday season, Pilot Flying J raised $100,000 to support Wreaths Across America— a non-profit organization dedicated to coordinating wreath-laying ceremonies each December at Arlington National Cemetery and nearly 800 additional veteran cemeteries and memorials across the country and overseas.
Pilot raised the money through its “Cup with a Cause” campaign in which drivers purchased a $4.99 limited-edition travel mug. With every mug purchase, Pilot donated $3 to WAA.
WAA marked its 20th anniversary trip to Arlington in 2012, placing 105,000 wreathes at the cemetery. It placed 406,000 wreaths in total last year—over 25 total tractor-trailer loads.
NATSO Foundation's Disaster Relief Fund
The NATSO Foundation is committed to doing its part to help victims of tragedy. Through the Disaster Relief Fund, the Foundation provides charitable funds to support people within our very own travel plaza and truckstop community affected by a disaster by providing access to immediate financial resources.
Charitable awards are made by the Foundation Board of Directors based on an objective determination of need or distress to truckstop and travel plaza customers or employees, truck drivers and small motor carriers impacted by disasters. All donations received for this fund go directly to the victims.
Donations to the NATSO Foundation's Disaster Relief Fund can be made online to help support people from our own industry who are in urgent need.
More information about the NATSO Foundation Disaster Relief Fund can be found on the Foundation website or call us at (703) 549-2100.
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