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Serving up the sweets for truck drivers alone on Christmas

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Updated: January 26, 2014 6:20AM



The table at Michelle Hepburn’s Mokena dining room was filled with dozens of cherry kolaches, peanut butter kisses, pecan nut cups, lemon crescents and pumpkin spice cookies.

Her family and friends — and fellow cookie bakers — had gathered to share some holiday cheer, not just among themselves but with truck drivers who may be passing through the south suburban area during the holidays.

All cookies were to be donated to truck stops, inspired by Meals for 18 Wheels — a Facebook effort to provide holiday meals to truck drivers who can’t make it home for the holidays.

Hepburn’s sister-in-law Pam Perillo, of Villa Park, heard about the Meals effort and immediately got everyone on board.

Her son Jason is a truck driver who was stuck in Houston for Thanksgiving, unable to get home for his home-cooked dinner.

“I thought about how many don’t make it home for the holiday. Where would we be without them?” she said.

“It can be a very lonely life,” said Hepburn’s sister, Sandy Pitluck, of Lockport. “This will make truck drivers feel good knowing that other people are thinking about them.”

They were joined in the sweet effort by Hepburn’s daughters, Kristin, of Tinley Park, and Kelly of Breckenridge, Colo., and Perillo’s friend Angie Sloan of Elwood.

The ladies decided that if they could not make meals, they would at least provide dessert.

They planned to deliver individually wrapped trays of cookies to truck stops in Minooka, and Gary and Hammond, Ind..

“It’s such a sweet, sweet thing,” Perillo said.

The Meals for 18 Wheels was launched the day before Thanksgiving by two wives of truck drivers — Kari Fischer and Crystal Schoonmaker.

Fischer, the owner and founder of the Missing Truck Drivers Alert Network, posted a Happy Thanksgiving message that day and got a response from a driver who was upset that he was not able to make it home.

Within 24 hours notice, they were able to provide meals to 31 drivers, Schoonmaker said. Their Facebook page now has more than 5,800 “Likes” and more than 3,000 people talking about it.

Schoonmaker said she has no idea how many drivers will be fed between Dec. 23 and 27, but within one day alone, 150 drivers responded to their Facebook invitation. Keeping up with all of the volunteers and drivers has been “stressful,” she said, as she was traveling with her husband — far from their own home in Fort Myers, Fla.

“We have 450 volunteers in 48 states and Canada and it keeps growing,” she said of the Internet effort. “A lot of people don’t realize how much these drivers sacrifice. Sometimes they are out in the middle of nowhere.”

As one person posted on Facebook: “Without trucks, America stops.”

“Everything you use was delivered by a truck driver,” posted another.

As of Monday, there were 13 volunteers in Illinois.

The system — which will be revamped after the holidays and run throughout the year — operates on an honor code, Schoonmaker said. She has faith in her volunteers and in her drivers, but requests that when they meet, they do so in a public place for the safety of all.

“Whatever you are making, just make an extra plate,” she said.

Anyone in need of a meal this week, or anyone interested in providing one should go to the Meals for 18 Wheels Facebook page.



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