Volunteer network of truckers, nonprofit partner to deliver disaster-relief supplies

A nonprofit trucking group is partnering with a volunteer-run disaster-relief organization to collect and eventually deliver critical supplies as Hurricane Ian intensified into a Category 4 system and is expected to pound Florida’s southwest coast late Wednesday morning.

Shelli Conaway-Waugh, of Lexington, Kentucky, a 30-year trucking veteran, runs a nonprofit group called Trucks with Room to Spare. She works with several relief organizations, including CN Supply, along with her network of truckers and donors, to pick up crucial disaster-relief supplies, which her group will deliver to the hardest hit areas of Florida once Ian has passed.

“As soon as the hurricane hits and the initial search and rescue is over, we’ll start carrying supplies in,” Conaway-Waugh told FreightWaves.

Her group coordinates with drivers who want to volunteer and have space in their trailers to haul a few pallets of supplies if they are headed to the area and asks trucking companies if they could donate a driver and their equipment to pick up and deliver supplies.

Donations made to Trucks with Room to Spare’s website will support fuel and other costs incurred by truck drivers who volunteer their time and their rigs to pick up and deliver critical relief supplies.

Her group’s website lists various ways to donate.

“Cash allows us to purchase supplies that we don’t have,” Conaway-Waugh said. “If people want to do a supply drive, that’s an option too.”

On the group’s website, she has a list of rules and regulations for volunteers who have collected disaster-relief supplies to ensure her group can accept the shipments. 

Her one request is no clothing donations. 

“There’s organizations that bring in tractor-trailer loads full of clothes and that always seems to be the one thing that nobody needs,” she said. “But cleaning supplies, tents, outdoor cookstoves, shovels, tarps and trash bags are always needed.”

Nonprofits partner to provide hurricane relief

Kristen Wise, president of CN Supply, describes her nonprofit group as the bridge that connects people who want to donate and give their time or money to help with the people who need their help the most. 

“Because we are a small group of volunteers, we try to be really intentional with our assistance,” Wise told FreightWaves. “We really make an effort not to just go in guns blazing into places but kind of wait until after the storm has passed and really assess what are the areas that genuinely need our help.” 

She said there are a lot of organizations that are mobilizing to be able to help with high-water rescues and other disaster-relief efforts, but her group’s approach is to see who needs most the help once the storm has passed. 

“There’s a lot of assistance from government agencies and resources on the ground as part of the first wave that comes in to help,” Wise said. “However, those resources get pulled out pretty quickly.”

Many times her group’s assistance is needed in low-income communities that were vulnerable prior to hurricane devastation. 

“Now they are in an even worse situation by not having access to utilities, water or electricity for a prolonged period of time,” Wise said. 

Her group focuses on the second wave when CN Supply receives requests from people who still need help because they don’t have access to food, water and other items like feminine hygiene products, diapers, wipes and formula and adult diapers that people forget about because their corner pharmacies or grocery stores are closed.

“So in that second-wave aftermath we are like, ‘All right, here’s where there’s really a need,’ and we’ll step in and help out,” Wise said.

Wise is originally from southeast Texas but moved to Washington, D.C., several years ago. She joined CN Supply in 2017 during Hurricane Harvey, which caused heavy flooding and destruction in her hometown. 

“I felt so helpless that this was happening in my hometown and wanted to help my family and friends in some way, even though I couldn’t be there,” she said.

Prior to becoming the group’s president, she worked remotely as a high-water dispatcher and supply coordinator and humanitarian aid director for the group.

Ways to donate?

Some people like to give monetarily online and CN Supply’s website has a link to donate, Wise said. Her group partners with volunteer drivers with Trucks with Room to Spare to pick up items from communities, churches, schools or businesses that want to mobilize and have a collection drive.

“I tell people to buy disaster relief supplies as if they were packing for a family camping trip in remote areas where you wouldn’t have access to stores to buy those items,” Wise said.

CN Supply will assist with press releases to local media outlets for collection drive organizers the group partners with. The group will also advertise the donation drives on its social media platforms, Wise said.

“One of the wonderful things about partnering with Trucks with Room to Spare is that collection drives can be arranged in areas outside of the storm-impacted communities,” Wise said. “Through this partnership, we’re able to really be connected as a grassroots community and collect at different points across the country and deliver the supplies to the areas that need it the most.”

This is a developing story. Stay tuned to FreightWaves and FWNOW for updates.

Click here for more articles by Clarissa Hawes.

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