Haulin' helper

Bill Hutson works on a wheelchair ramp that took four days to complete. An effort of his charity volunteer organization, Table Talk Ministries, the project cost $900, with only $500 in donations. Hutson usually pays for costs not donated, and he spent more than $40,000 out-of-pocket last year.

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 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 in repairs, but only $4,000 came in the form of donations. Hutson paid the rest 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-profit agencies refer clients to Table Talk, so he’s trying to raise donations by word of mouth and via the organization’s website.

“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 into 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 about other funding opportunities, such as a U.S. Grant for $7,500 available to homeowners in areas with populations smaller than 50,000 people.

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. “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

Coverall Queens
Mechanic/photographer’s calendar series focuses on real women hard at work

Photographer Sarah Lyon doesn’t hate the girlie calendars that populate auto mechanic shops. In fact, she made one recently that redefines the very idea of those flashy pin-ups with images of women hard at work in an industry that is almost exclusively male.

The 28-year-old Lyon, of Louisville, Ky., is a mechanic herself and an avid motorcycle rider. A few years back, taking pictures on a road trip across the country, she had to stop at a shop in Cincinnati for a repair. She was so adept at using the tools and fixing her vehicle that the manager offered her a job on the spot detailing choppers. Lyon noticed that in that shop, and in the shops she had previously visited, she was usually the only woman working. She also had seen the calendars of barely dressed women that hung in just about every auto repair shop around the country. This got her thinking.

Lyon wanted to pay tribute to the women in the auto mechanic business by creating her own calendar of women who donned coveralls daily and went to work on trucks, bikes, cars and big rigs.

“It’s an interesting way to show women working,” she says.

After taking a photography class at the University of Louisville, she earned a grant that allowed her to travel cross-country and document female mechanics working side by side with their male counterparts.

The Department of Labor estimates only 12,000 of the 884,000 certified auto mechanics working in the United States are female. Of the 339,000 diesel mechanics working today, a similar number applies – less than 1 percent, or 3,000, are women.

Chrissy Reifschneider, 30, of Syracuse, Neb., is one such diesel mechanic featured in the calendar. Her interest in machines sprung out of necessity, she says.

“My first car was a 1980 Mustang. I was 19 and bought a piece of crap for $300. I had to fix it myself,” she says.

But necessity turned into something more.

“I had a sense of accomplishment when I fixed something, and the feeling of ‘I can do this’ kept me going,” she says.

Her career began when she went to school for automotives and began winning contests for her work. She got her first job, with Crete Carrier, two years ago, and she still works there. Now, she likes to work on reefers and semi-trailers, and she’s rebuilt three diesel engines so far.

One of her favorite things to repair? “A Chevy 350,” she says. “It’s the easiest thing you can work on.”

She also enjoys the challenge of a reefer. “It’s never the same thing twice. It’s my favorite.”

Reifschneider has two children, and during her pregnancies both she and the men she worked with learned a few things about working in a male-dominated industry with an expectant mother.

“Most of them are fathers,” she says. “They remember the hell their wives put them through. So they’re kinda cautious but understanding.”

As for the drivers who bring in their trucks for Reifschneider to repair, they’re learning some lessons of their own about female mechanics.

“I have gotten negative responses,” Reifschneider says, “but once they see I can do the job, they stop. Actually, a lot of them have heard about me, and they want me to work on their stuff. I proved to them that just because I’m a female doesn’t mean I can’t do it.”

Her professional manner gets her respect in the shop, she says. “Not trying to use my femininity to get my way makes a difference in how I get along with guys I work with and drivers,” Reifschneider says. “Communication makes a big difference in how drivers treat you. You can be professional no matter what.”

In her spare time she works on cars and goes fishing and hunting.

“It’s nice to drive down the road in my hot rod and know I built it,” she says.

Brandie Jones, 26, of Mitford, Neb., has worked for Freightliner since she was 19. Like Reifschneider, she began working on automobiles at an early age.

While she doesn’t really know any other women in her field, Jones doesn’t regret her career choice. “The secretaries at Freightliner are women, so mostly I work with all guys,” she says. “At first a few of ’em were a little skittish, but they’re a good group of guys. As long as you pull your own weight, I don’t think they really care.

“I don’t think I could be cooped up in an office, that’s for sure,” she says.

The comments she gets from drivers are varied. Sometimes from older men, she gets “You’re not gonna work on my truck.” Jones is also confronted with what she calls “sexual innuendos” from other men, but she says she doesn’t mind.

“You never know what they’re going to say,” Jones says, laughing.

Lyon is planning on a second calendar for 2008, and her art and information about the calendar can be found at www.sarahlyon.com. The 2007 calendar is available for $12, and her 2008 calendar can be pre-ordered for $15.
–Sarah Thomson

Treats to Go
Baker Kim Ima turned her passion for cookies and cakes into a business on wheels

What’s better than a homemade cookie or brownie, delivered right to your own neighborhood? Not much, baker Kim Ima would say.

Ima, 39, began baking as child, when she spent many rainy afternoons baking pies and cakes with her mother. But true love wouldn’t set in till later.

“In college, I baked for friends,” Ima says. “Then, about six years ago I became obsessed with it, baking all the time and making up recipes.”

Three and half years ago, Ima was walking down a bustling New York street with a friend and said, “A Treats Truck! That’s what I want!”

She bought her truck Sugar on eBay, a 1999 Freightliner panel van with 15 feet of space in the back for her baked treats. Ima was looking for a vehicle that ran on alternative fuel, and Sugar ran on compressed natural gas.

“It’s clean, and much cheaper,” she says. She has to go to special stations for her fuel but doesn’t mind the extra time.
The paint scheme on Ima’s truck and the company logo, uniform and menu were all inspired by vintage cookbooks and graphic design from the ’50s and ’60s.

“I love old ads; I love old cookbooks and the graphics in them,” she says.

Many of her recipes – peanut butter cookie sandwiches, oatmeal jammies (oatmeal cookies with jam centers) and cranberry Rice Krispies treats – were taken from those old cookbooks and modified.

“They’re old-fashioned recipes that I’ve tweaked,” she says. She also keeps her recipes simple and uses fresh ingredients. Such foods are comforting to children and adults alike, who crave a nostalgic piece of the past in hectic Manhattan, Ima says.

Ima is not only one of the chief bakers, she also drives Sugar from neighborhood to neighborhood, parking on street corners and selling her goods to eager customers. Her business began with just herself and a friend from college, but now it has expanded to eight staff members who bake, drive and take orders. Ima begins her day early, most often before dawn, at her small bakery in Red Hook, Brooklyn, and then loads up Sugar to take out on the streets. Prices for her treats range from $1-$3, and on her website, www.treatstruck.com, customers can browse the full range of options and find out where she and Sugar will be parked that day.

Ima plans on making use of the oven in the back of her truck this winter to bake during the day. She offers daily specials, and this fall she planned to use seasonal apples and pumpkins in her goodies.

Ten percent of the profits from the specials go to a different charity each month, ranging from local neighborhood non-profits to larger national charities.

Ima may be a one-woman performing artist with her uniform, jaunty hat and Treats Truck, but she takes her business seriously.

“It’s not just for show,” she says. “I’m out there really trucking.”
–Sarah Thomson

10-4, Teddy Bear
Inspired by Red Sovine’s old trucking song, Canadian Richard Masys moves to unload toys for charity

Richard Masys, a resident of Pierrefonds, Quebec, Canada, says Red Sovine’s song “Teddy Bear” well illustrates truckers’ generosity. Since 2002, when he heard Boxcar Willie’s version of the ditty about a disabled boy who befriends a trucker over the CB, he’s been asking truckers for their help in supporting the 10-4 Teddy Bear Wheelchair Foundation, a non-profit he founded to raise money to buy wheelchairs for children who can’t afford them.

Masys worked for 12 years in the trucking industry coordinating U.S. cargo from Canada for Kingsway Transport and Coachman Transport.

“Truckers have big hearts, and the truckers I know do a lot and don’t get a lot of credit,” Masys says. “Truckers work hard and they don’t get respect.”

The song and his girlfriend, Mary Hyjek, who died last year from colon cancer, were the inspirations for starting the charity program.

“My girlfriend was a teacher for 30 years in special education,” he says. “Those kids are treated rough, and sometimes they can’t afford wheelchairs they need.”

Masys says Hyjek requested before she died that he continue working toward starting the foundation.

“She told me that if I was going to keep talking about it, I had to do it,” he says.

The program is in its early stages, and Masys is trying to raise awareness through e-mails and phone calls, and he may start using the CB and walkie-talkies to promote the wheelchair foundation.

As an incentive to donate, he’s bought 5,000 teddy bears he’s currently selling. He will use the funds to help children in the same region the donation came from. The organization will use at least 50 percent of the proceeds from each bear toward new wheelchairs, with the remaining money going to expenses and the government.

Each bear – dressed in a red hat, blue overalls and a white T-shirt – is $24, and order forms can be printed from www.10-4teddybear.com.
–Kristie Busam