Haulin' helper

Leaky roofs, sinking floors and malfunctioning toilets are common household problems that can be repaired with a little work and money. But when someone lives below the poverty line, those small problems can turn into nightmares as contractors demand more money than the family can pay. That’s where Bill Hutson comes in.

The Greencastle, Ind.-based National Freight driver grew up visiting residents in a nursing home where his mother worked as a cook. “I developed a passion for the elderly and needy early,” Hutson says.

Today, he hauls high-dollar grocery merchandise for Trader Joe’s between Indianapolis and Atlanta, but he got his start in trucking 27 years ago with a produce hauler recommended by another driver. Before that, Hutson worked for a construction company whose owner encouraged him to help elderly people in need.

“He told me, ‘to the world you might be one person, but to one person you might be the world,'” Hutson says of his former boss.

In 2002, Hutson decided to start doing volunteer work on his own. A woman at his church needed major work done on her trailer, so Hutson started Table Talk Ministries as a non-profit to make repairs on the homes of needy families. The staff for Table Talk Ministries is made up of several volunteers, including an electrician, church members and some Indiana State troopers.

Last year, the organization made $47,000 dollars in repairs, but only $4,000 came in the form of donations. Hutson paid the rest of the costs out of his own pocket.

Hutson estimates he has helped 30 people, 15 within the last year. But there is a waiting list now as funds are dwindling. “There are 24 people on the waiting list who need new roofs, which cost about $5,000,” he says. “They are on the waiting list because I just don’t have the money.”

Hutson says federal, state and private non-profits agencies refer clients to Table Talk, so he’s trying to raise donations by word of mouth and via the organization’s website, where contributors can make online donations.

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“Most of the donations come from people who know me or know about it,” Hutson says. “They know when they give that money, it will all go to the job. One hundred percent of the donations go into the outreach.”

Though donations are scarce, the organization has had property donated recently, and there is someone already lined up to move in the vacant home. So far, the biggest monetary donation has been $1,900, and Hutson says monetary donations are best because he doesn’t have a warehouse to store supplies.

If he can’t make a repair, he calls contractors to find someone who can help. “Nine times out of 10, I can find someone to do it for free,” he says.

To receive aid from Table Talk, individuals must be at or below median income.

“If you are 50 years old and make $26,000 a year, you don’t qualify for any federal programs, so we try to fill in that gray area,” he says. “Another group in need is the disabled, and there are government programs for them, but the typical waiting list is two years.” “That is a long time to wait if your furnace isn’t working.” Hutson says he also tries to educate those in need of other funding opportunities, such as a U.S. Grant for $7,500 for homeowners in areas with populations less than 50,000.

Families of fallen police officers and fallen soldiers are automatically qualified for Table Talk services.

Table Talk doesn’t focus on the needy in a particular area and uses the donations and volunteer work to help those all over the country. “I go anywhere I’m needed,” he says. “I have helped people in Georgia, South Carolina, Iowa and Indiana.” One of his next projects is to install a wheelchair ramp for a home in Clinton, Ind.

Hutson doesn’t volunteer to get special recognition. He says he just likes helping people. “It pains my heart to see people in need, and so many people sit back and do nothing.”

He recalls a woman named Victoria who had a leak in her roof but could not afford to hire someone to do the repair. It only took Hutson 45 minutes to complete the job.

“When I finished, she gave me a hug and kissed me on the cheek,” he says, “and I sat in my truck and just cried. That’s all the feedback I need.”

For more information about Table Talk Ministries or to make donations, visit the website www.tabletalkministries.org.
–Kristie Busam

Rolling With a Cause
Wheelchair-bound man’s wild ride gives him a platform for improving trucks’ blind spots

It was the stuff of drivers’ nightmares.

Ben Carpenter, 21, of Alamo, Mich., has suffered from muscular dystrophy for most of his life. Diagnosed at the age of 9, later than most muscular dystrophy patients, he’s been using a wheelchair to get around since he was a teenager. On Wednesday, June 6, a driver for Ralph Moyle, Inc., a dry and refrigerated food hauler based in nearby Mattawan, eased into a crosswalk over Red Arrow Highway in the village of Paw Paw, Mich., under green.

Carpenter had just begun his slow progress across Red Arrow in his motorized Invacare wheelchair totally obscured from the truck driver’s vision by the hood. The truck bumped Carpenter’s chair and turned it forward, in line with the truck’s progress. Says Ben’s father Don Carpenter, “It was a Freightliner, and the grille just happened to be the right type,” with horizontal bars spaced just perfectly for the wheelchair’s handles.

“I’m sitting here at the corner of Michigan and Hazen Street in Paw Paw, and a semi truck just came by,” says the first 911 caller, very deliberately setting the scene. “And he does not know it, but he has a gentleman on the front of his truck that is in a wheelchair. And he’s pushing him down the road, and there’s a girl on a bike screaming, running after him trying to get the truck to stop.”

Caller No. 2 (decidedly more frantic): “There is a westbound truck dragging a man in a wheelchair!