Pulse

Max Heine | June 02, 2011

Delivering Relief

It’s said that extreme circumstances bring out the best and worst in people. That’s certainly been the case in Tuscaloosa, Ala., where Overdrive is based.

When tornadoes raked the Southeast in late April, our city was one of the hardest hit. A huge tornado mowed a strip for miles through the center of town, leaving 40-plus dead and thousands displaced.

Looters were among the first to emerge in the stricken areas, and not just after dark on that first day. In broad daylight the next, they mixed with the gawkers who roamed unsecured retail areas.

Two of my sons, helping with distribution of aid, told of a woman who asked to be followed home for help with unloading the baby stroller and other goods she had just packed into her car. Upon arriving, they found a neighborhood untouched by the storm. Such incidents are all too common, I’m told by a friend in the sheriff’s department who’s worked non-stop in relief.

USA Truck’s concern for its drivers based in tornado-ravaged Tuscaloosa “was a blessing of its own,” says Jason Rutledge.

Fortunately, the more common scenario is just the opposite. Community members drop off food, water and other goods for distribution, and others make sure the supplies get where they’re needed. Volunteers work long hours to remove trees and other debris. Scanning one neighborhood from atop a friend’s house while stripping off shingles, I was struck by the sound of so many chainsaws, the sight of so many people and pickups.

Trucks of a much bigger variety, too, have been here. Fleets as large as Mercer Transportation and USA Truck, and as small as two-truck DC Jones Trucking of Dallas, have sent supplies. USA’s load was delivered by Jason Rutledge, for whom the disaster was personal. He lives in Tuscaloosa and was shocked when he got home and saw the damage, which included a tree falling on his house.

Rutledge says USA’s management has shown ongoing concern for him and other drivers based here. “For a company to not only ask about their employees’ families’ health, but to help the community out that you stay in … that was a blessing of its own,” he says.

One heartening thing about the response from truckers and others is that it’s privately motivated, privately executed. No federal bureaucrat had to tell anyone to give money or drive hundreds of miles or drag limbs from backyards. No one needed a grant from FEMA.

Which is not to say FEMA or other publicly funded agencies don’t play an important role in such disasters. They clearly do. But how great it would be if this spirit of volunteerism and self-reliance could extend to meeting social needs 365 days a year, coast to coast. What a difference it could make in solving problems too often relegated to an impersonal, tax-hungry government.

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