Monday through Friday, between 6 and 7 a.m. the 14-member team of drivers (which quickly jumped to 19 with the onset of COVID-19) for St. Louis Area Foodbank set out on daily routes to deliver or pick up food across 14 counties in Missouri and 12 counties in Illinois. Some of these routes are more than 100 miles in one direction while others are a mere 3-miles from the Foodbank’s Bridgeton location.
Rainstorms. Melting heat. Bitter cold. Sleet. Traffic. The drivers navigate through it all, day in and day out. Without this dynamic team, the Foodbank wouldn’t be able to do what we do so well.
Across the region, the drivers are often the face of the Foodbank. While dozens of people are working in the warehouse and office making sure logistics run as smoothly as possible, the drivers are the ones out across the region interacting in person daily with food pantries, supermarkets, food distribution warehouses, and more. As long-time driver Karl Holbrook stated, “know the mission” when asked about offering advice to others who will someday drive for the Foodbank.
Since the pandemic hit in mid-March, our drivers, along with the rest of our team, have ramped up to go that extra mile (or 100 miles) to ensure the food is delivered and distributed to those who need help.
We recently caught up with a few drivers (they’re on the go so much it’s hard to pin them down) and chatted with them for a few minutes:
Some at the Foodbank jokingly call Karl president. With the longest track record of any employee — 32 years — at St. Louis Area Foodbank, it’s a well-deserved moniker. Although Karl laughs it off saying “everyone’s equal.” Fun fact, the more you talk with Karl the more you’ll wind up laughing.
He started with the Foodbank through a temp service working in the warehouse in 1988 at about age 19 and shifted to driving at 21 simply because we needed another driver. Karl passes it off as easy, “I took a test, I passed and I started driving.”
Foodbank route: Most of his drives are retail pick-ups although twice a week he’s out in Farmington and DeSoto dropping off food.
What Karl likes about driving: Meeting interesting people and feeling good helping people with food are some of what keeps Karl coming back day after day. Karl loves what he does and thinks the Foodbank is a nice place to work.
What keeps Karl alert: Listening to music — “a little bit of everything.”
Motto: Be safe.
On driving during a pandemic: It’s busy. The last time Karl recalls any other time being near this busy was the flood of 1993.
Before Lee started with the Foodbank nearly 6 years ago he was an over the road truck driver, as are many of his relatives, for almost two years. Now he’s able to be home each night and weekends, which he much prefers. He, too, found his way to us through a temp service to start. As a morning person, the early start hours are ideal for him.
Foodbank route: Mostly Lee picks up retail but part of the week he goes wherever he’s needed.
What Lee likes about driving: He’s always on the go meeting people and not stuck in one spot.
What keeps Lee alert: Listening to R&B and rap music. He said he really likes old school music but when pressed if that meant the ’60s or the ’80s he said yes. He’s also entertained by watching other motorists on the road.
On driving for the Foodbank: “Drivers at the Foodbank are like a little family. We joke around with each other.” Getting along with each other and getting the job done are important to Lee.
Antwana’s been with the Foodbank for two years. Prior to that, she was driving parts of the Midwest for about three years but she wanted better and more regular hours. After a brief search, she found herself at the Foodbank. She enjoys it so much she said, “it doesn’t feel like a job, it’s more like I’m volunteering.” She enjoys interacting with the employees at the partner agencies and getting to know them.
Foodbank route: Varies between delivering to food pantries and picking up from retail.
What Antwana likes about driving: It comes easily to her.
What keeps Antwana alert: Podcasts, Breakfast Crew, R&B, and keeping her eyes on the others on the road, “driving defensively.”
On driving for the Foodbank: It’s one big family. As the only female driver for a while, the other drivers are all like her brothers, helping her out and treating her well.
Larrell has been driving for the Foodbank since mid-January, 2020. He started as a temporary driver and continues as one, not because he doesn’t enjoy working for the Foodbank (he does, saying the job is great and that “the people here have a great energy”) and not because he hasn’t been offered a full-time position (he has, a few times) but because his goal is to drive Class A (semis) whereas at the Foodbank he’s driving Class B (boxcars). His near-future goal is to purchase his own Class A truck by year’s end and drive as a contractor.
Foodbank route: He doesn’t have a set route at the Foodbank. Instead, he fills in where needed.
What Larrell likes about driving: “It’s peace of mind and calming.” When learning to drive Class A, Larrell said it was like second nature for him.
What keeps Larell alert: Music, mostly hip hop and R&B. After he gets tired of playlists, he’ll switch to podcasts (nothing too specific, just general). On a recent rainy day, his playlist was the natural sounds around him.
On driving for the Foodbank: “You see the long lines [of people waiting] and it’s good to know the work you did today is for a good cause. It’s a good feeling when people see you and they’re happy to see you.”
John is one of many drivers the Missouri National Guard has assigned to the Foodbank to help during the COVID-19 pandemic. He was one of the first enlisted to help with the Foodbank in March. Dozens of other Missouri National Guards came on board in May and are working hard to help distribute food at various mobile markets. We’re not sure how long John and the other Guards will be with us (so far their orders have been updated at least four times) but having them on board continues to be an essential factor in delivering and receiving food across our service area.
Foodbank route: It changes daily. On the day we caught up with him, he was delivering to one Mobile Market and then heading to several retail partners and donors to pick up a variety of items.
What John likes about driving: That he’s on his own and it’s calm.
What keeps John alert: Knowing there are other drivers on the road.
Impression of the Foodbank drivers: The drivers are “awesome and try to help” him whenever they can.