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‘Sometimes we are hungry all day’: Food truck relief en route for truckers hit hard by COVID-19

Truck drivers seeing relief after long haul challenges during COVID-19
One month after truckers on the frontlines of the pandemic's food supply chain expressed concerns about the lack of meal or washroom options along their long haul routes, commercial drivers are finally seeing some relief. Kristen Robinson reports.

Commercial truckers who drive the supply chain by delivering food and other essential goods during the COVID-19 pandemic are finally seeing some relief and respect after weeks of struggling to find meals and even washrooms along their long-haul routes.

The trucking industry and the province are bringing food trucks to key commercial vehicle stops where there are few to no essential resources available to delivery drivers.

In order to encourage food vendors to set up at rest areas, weigh scales and commercial truck pullouts in the Lower Mainland and southern Interior, the B.C. government is forgoing the usual restrictions and fees required.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Truck drivers working non-stop to deliver essential goods, but it’s tough

“We anticipate the initiative just to take fire right across the country,” said BC Trucking Association president Dave Earle.

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So far, Earle says about eight food trucks have set up, with more expected to be added in the weeks ahead.

The Lunch Bucket at Zopkios Brake Check on Highway 5 southbound between Hope and Merritt started its summer season early to support truckers. Since April 20, Jan Hepting has been serving hot home-cooked meals seven days a week.

“It’s been very challenging for these guys on the roads,” said Hepting.

READ MORE: B.C. truck drivers struggle to find open restaurants due to COVID-19 pandemic

With restaurants closed due to physical distancing restrictions and many fast-food drive-thrus off limits to semi-truck drivers, Hepting knows the pandemic has made accessing food even harder for those who spend their days behind the wheel of a big rig.

“It has been difficult for them having such large trucks to get in anywhere and having places to eat especially after hours,” Hepting told Global News.

“The biggest problem is the bathrooms and a lot of restaurants are closed,” said commercial driver Al Audet.

Ironically, the workers who feed the country’s supply chain with their deliveries, are too often missing meals themselves.

“Sometimes we are hungry all day,” commercial driver Istpred Singh Sohi told Global News.

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Now Sohi says stopping on the Coquihalla in what used to be the middle of nowhere, is the highlight of his work trip.

“From B.C. to Alberta, this is my favourite part. They provide us veggie food, even they provide us Indian tea.”

Along with The Lunch Bucket food truck, the Zopkios Brake Check has bathroom facilities which are regularly maintained.

“It’s been really nice,” said commercial driver Shawn Hunt.

“A lot of people have stepped up.”

Food trucks set up to serve truckers are also listed on the website for a separate initiative spearheaded by the BC Trucking Association called Meals For Truck Drivers BC.

The industry, along with a group of B.C. business owners, are behind Meals For Truck Drivers, which aims to mobilize the food truck industry to bring meals and portable wash stations to commercial cardlocks around the province.

Cookshack Cravings Mobile Food has been feeding truckers for more than a month from the Chevron cardlock in Kamloops, where washrooms have been brought in.

“Everybody was pretty shocked and dismayed that the truckers couldn’t get food or use the washrooms,” said owner/operator Deanna Bell.

READ MORE: Alberta urges relief for hungry truckers ‘absolutely critical to the supply lines’

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Bell says she felt compelled to step up. The initiative gets her food truck, which had shut down due to COVID-19, back to work.

Business sponsors are paying for all the meals she serves to truckers, who she says have been very appreciative of the support.

“They drive miles and miles and miles through the night, all day,” said Bell.

“We just really feel really good about being able to give back and we’re working too.”

Trucking companies are helping out too by holding free lunch drive-thrus for the essential drivers working 24/7 to keep the economy going. In Delta on Friday, the Port Transportation Association provided hot Indian food, bottled water and tea to truckers passing through the Nordel CVSE Inspection Station.

“We call them frontliners because they get the supply chain going,” said Harry Rattan with the association of B.C. port licensed trucking companies.

“Drivers have been neglected the last couple months due to COVID-19.”

Rattan’s company, HR Trucking, supplied the pakoras and samosas for the event. He says it’s especially tough for truckers to be on the road during the pandemic.

“Everybody would like to stay with their family, but truckers have to work.”

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Gagandeep Singh, a commercial driver from Calgary, pulled in to sleep Friday but decided to take lunch first.

“That’s pretty nice for the truckers,” Singh said.

Along with increased opportunities for food, the province has installed more than 25 portable toilets at commercial pullouts and inspection stations, but some truckers say what’s really needed are real washrooms with hot water and sanitation.

A map of rest areas and portable toilets in B.C.
A map of rest areas and portable toilets in B.C. Commercial Vehicle and Safety Enforcement

“They have to build up the rest areas,” Sohi told Global News.

“Because we are also serving our country.”

The head of the BC Trucking Association says the improved services are long overdue.

“For many years the drivers that worked so hard and so long to keep our supply chain running really worked invisibly,” Earle told Global News.

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“Now they feel recognized, they feel valued.”

Heartened truckers are hoping the newfound support and respect for what they do, will survive the pandemic.

“Hopefully it continues when all this craziness goes away,” said Hunt.