Waking up at the crack of dawn and heading off to work last week I noticed two things:
The air was noticeably cooler, giving me hope that the sun was finally taking a break from melting the population of Oklahoma, like ants under a magnifying glass.
- It was the crack of dawn.
My intention of waking up at an absurd hour (absurd for me at least) was to meet one of our drivers and go on a ride along; try to see what a driver does on a typical day. I was given the chance to hang around with Mike, a driver who’s been around for about a year and half.
Before the trip he checked the truck for any problems. The drivers have to know if there’s something wrong before they embark on their journey. I imagine it would be rather terrifying having a sprocket (is that a technical car term?) come loose during a delivery, especially if you’re a rural driver. Mike is responsible for an urban route, so he usually circles the metro area. On this day he was travelling to two partner agencies to make deliveries and to an Akin’s store to pick up product. Before I left for the trip I was asked by one of the warehouse guys if I brought a helmet – I’m pretty certain he was joking.
The first partner agency we visited was downtown, the First United Methodist Church. Most of us tend to think when a driver’s making a delivery he shows up, drops off the items, and leaves for the next destination. This wasn’t true in Mike’s case. After hauling the food out of the truck on pallet jacks, he took the time to help the staff at the agency transfer the food into the facility and helped them figure out where to put everything! Drivers deliver a variety of product – including “dry product” like cereal, crackers, etc. that are loaded onto the trucks the day before. Then the next day, frozen foods, vegetables and bread are added to the load. It usually takes a metro driver about 10 to 15 minutes to unload the donations because those deliveries carry a smaller load and are made more frequently. A rural driver, on the other hand, may spend up to 2 to 3 hours unloading product at one site because they make much larger deliveries in larger trucks on a less frequent basis. Metro drivers may make a delivery to an agency once a week or every other week and rural drivers may deliver only once or twice a month.
What’s interesting for the drivers, because they have been doing this for so long, is that many of them have a pretty good idea about what each agency needs. They know when an agency on their route is going to need extra food to help feed the growing number of families who come to the agency. This ability to attune to what the partner agencies need is derived from the hundreds of trips the drivers make. On average, the drivers will make 1,000 deliveries in a month. According to Mike, he accrues on average about 1,000 to 1,500 miles a month and that’s only in the metro. Rural drivers naturally accumulate a staggering amount of miles. Drivers travel as far out as the panhandle to make their deliveries. A drop off at an agency in Guymon could take up a whole day.
During the trip, I noticed Mike was able to maneuver the truck in the most precarious situations. Driving through narrow alleyways, parallel parking, making sharp turns and not rolling over the curb was no problem for him. I can’t even do those things in my own car. On the way back Mike talked about what happens when the driver returns after making a pick up from one of our retail donor locations. After picking up donations the driver will head back to the Food Bank, back up to the loading dock, unload the product and take it to the back of the warehouse where donations can be sorted into large bins. Donations can be both food and non-food items. The bins are labeled with large signs designating a bin to hold items like dry product, canned goods, jars, hygiene products. After everything is sorted and boxed by volunteers, it is put into our inventory where a partner agency can order it and Mike can deliver it. It’s kind of a nice way to end things, everything comes full circle.
At the end of the trip, when I entered the warehouse and walked back to my office, I stopped to look at the towering shelves stocked full of items. It is amazing to think that all of that product is shipped out every day and feeds thousands of hungry Oklahomans but I suppose with drivers like Mike it’s an everyday reality. And after all I learned, I guess it wasn’t so bad waking up that early after all.