Local heroes: Truckers 'shed a few tears' over free hot meals from Redcliff rest stop
Local heroes is a series featuring southern Albertans who are making a difference during the pandemic
When he was given a free, hot meal at a rest stop in Redcliff, truck driver Cord Gibson was two weeks into a particularly punishing haul — coffee, showers and hot meals had become scarce for truck drivers.
Since March 21, residents of Redcliff and beyond have chipped in thousands of dollars to feed weary truck drivers who are contributing a crucial service during the coronavirus pandemic.
Trukkers, a 24-hour restaurant attached to a gas station on Highway 1, has been giving away a hot, homemade takeout meal to any truck driver who stops in.
When Gibson stopped in last week, he'd only eaten cold sandwiches for two weeks. He spotted people coming out of Trukkers with takeout boxes.
"I go in [and said to the server], 'Excuse me dear, you guys still have your kitchen open, do you still make food? I'll take it out to the truck, no problem,'" Gibson said.
'I kind of shed a few tears'
The server said they would happily make him a meal. Gibson ordered a hamburger steak with gravy, mushrooms, onions, veggies and rice.
When he tried to pay, the woman confirmed he was a truck driver and then said "no charge."
"I was kind of a little flabbergasted and I said, 'Pardon?'"
That's when Gibson was told the community had donated money to "keep the truckers fed."
"It was a little bit overwhelming. I kind of shed a few tears," said Gibson.
Started with $100 donation
It all started with one $100 donation from Jason Braun three weeks ago.
Owner Deni Watson thanked Braun on the Trukkers Facebook page and then it "blew up," she said.
"People don't know what to do, they want to do something," Watson said.
One of the donations was extra special to Trukkers.
Their best customer Ken Hauck died a couple of years ago. He was such a staple at Trukkers that his wife was known to call the restaurant to get in touch with him.
The night he died, Hauck left Trukkers with a belly full of Jell-O and said "see you tomorrow."
'We're treated …like second-rate citizens'
Hauck's photo now hangs above booth number one.
On April 6, Hauck's birthday, his family came into Trukkers and donated to the fund in his name.
One truck driver told Watson the free, hot meal couldn't have come at a better time — he just had to pay $26 for an egg salad sandwich in B.C.
More than one truck driver has posted on the restaurant's Facebook page that the gesture made them tear up.
Truck drivers aren't used to being publicly appreciated and recognized for the work they do.
"We do really long days, we're away from home a long time and we're treated pretty much like second-rate citizens," said Gibson.
'Thank you, truckers'
But these days, people are recognizing the role truckers play and Gibson said the experience has been "heartwarming."
"I was going down the highway from Rogers Pass near Chase and on some of the telephone poles you can see little signs, you can clearly tell kids have made, that say, 'Thank you, truckers.' It puts a smile on your face," Gibson said.
"Down in Chilliwack they have some banners on the overpasses saying, 'Thank you.' It's nice."
Watson, who has been serving truck drivers for a dozen years, said it's about time they are getting the recognition they deserve.
"We've stopped kind of looking at them as the big bullies on the highway and started recognizing that they do and always have provided us with every single thing we need," said the Trukkers owner.
'It's the community'
Watson hasn't counted yet because she wants to do a "big reveal at the end of all this," but she says thousands of dollars have been donated.
Twelve years ago, Watson and her husband bought the restaurant. He died about three years ago.
At first she wasn't sure what to do, but realized while she'd lost her husband, the staff had become like family.
Now, Watson has had to lay off 27 of her 35 staff, but she said she has every intention of re-hiring after she can open her doors to sit-down service again.
"I actually don't know what I would do without this place, so we're just going to keep going," she said.
Watson is quick to point out that though her restaurant is getting constant thanks from the truck drivers, it's the people and businesses who have donated, making all of this possible.
"It has been so amazing," she said.
"I'm in no way able to give meals away right now … but because we have such a strong community behind us, we are able to give these meals out."