Original article published in the Mower County Independent, Thursday, October 13, 2022. Reprinted with permission and gratitude.
By Gretchen Mensink Lovejoy
“It is devastating and unbelievable. It is heartbreaking to see all the homes just gone and the loss of life. It’s hard to watch the news and not want to do something to help. We wanted to come up with a way to help the people of Florida, as we have drivers that are from that area, and we saw the devastation and knew we had to help out…so we thought what better way than to load up one of our 53-foot van trailers with donations and take down to Florida to help out,” explained Valley Transportation Dispatch Manager Tyler Schiltz. He elaborated on the recent “Fill a Trailer for Florida” effort to collect and deliver relief items to residents of Fort Myers, Fla., following the destruction left by Hurricane Ian’s landfall at the end of September and early October.
Schiltz outlined how the Grand Meadow trucking company determined that it had the most fitting resources to uplift people whose lives have been washed away by the behemoth storm, posting notices of a collection to gather bottled water, clothing, shoes, toiletries, cleaning supplies, dog and cat food, coolers, storage containers, shovels, non-perishable food items, bedding and blankets between Oct. 3 and Oct. 8 to benefit people who just days before had had all that they needed to be comfortable.
“We believe that by having the resources to help out, we were able to engage in the community to donate as much as we could and haul one larger trailer to the area of need and collect more items than if someone had a smaller trailer to help. We also have people that have ties to the area affected, and they are able to help coordinate from that end. We are choosing the Fort Myers area because that is the hardest hit. We are currently working on a plan of exactly where the trailer will be getting unloaded.”
Word of the relief mission traveled quickly, and people showed their generosity as they learned of the means by which to give of their own fortune across the miles. Schiltz commented that the number of organizations, individuals and businesses that have lent their aid number beyond what he can count–including employees of Spring Valley’s Dollar General, who took it upon themselves independently to round up needed items—but he listed some, saying, “Kingsland Public Schools, Hayfield Schools, Grand Meadow Schools, the RCTC Nursing Program, Evangel Methodist in Rochester, Rock Road Bandits, area dentist offices, Kwik Trip in Spring Valley, the Grand Meadow License Bureau…I am sure I am missing some, as there have been many people collecting items and dropping them off.”
The manager related that the trailer is not quite full, but every little thing helps ease distress when there remains nothing of someone’s home or business.
“Currently it is half full, but we know it will end up being a full trailer, as most people have said they will be dropping off Saturday morning. There is also more that will come in that is being dropped off at Kingsland’s school, Hayfield Elementary School, and Grand Meadow School. When this was first thought of, we didn’t expect the outpouring of support that we are seeing. It is absolutely amazing to see everyone stopping by and all the local schools getting involved to help. It shows how great this area of Minnesota is, and when something happens, we step up and do our part to help out. Currently, if this trailer gets completely filled, we may have another one, and if so, we will announce at that time, but logistically, the hardest part is not knowing what donations will be coming and how to pack the trailer so everything inside is safe and secure. Since we are an over-the-road carrier and run 48 states, it makes it easier to pick out a driver who would not be just a local driver and who has time to do this.” Schiltz added that the opportunity to do something of this magnitude is “great.”
“While this is not the type of freight we want to haul–as no one wants to experience this type of destruction–it is nice that we have the means and ability to help out in time of need.” He continued, “Since our van fleet has started, this is the first load we have ever done like this. We have hauled equipment into relief areas for other disasters, but never a donation drive like this. When local disasters such as the Taopi tornado happened, we made donations to fundraisers in an effort to help out. We hope this will make a huge impact to the people that have lost everything. Unfortunately, the loss of life can never be replaced, and that is the saddest part of this whole thing, but we hope that by bringing what we have collected, it will help people get through this horrible event.”
Courtesy of the Mower County Independent, 135 E Main St. LeRoy, MN 55951, (507)-324-5325