Trucking School Aids Food Bank - Diesel Driving Academy

Students Gain Experience While Helping Nonprofit Save Cash
By Aprille Hanson

LITTLE ROCK -- LITTLE ROCK; The students of Diesel Driving Academy in Little Rock are learning what it’s like to haul a load while helping feed the hungry in Arkansas.

This year, the driving school has partnered with the Arkansas Foodbank to transport food from the food bank’s Little Rock location, at 4301 W. 65th St. , to its branch in Warren , for free.

“It’s a win-win. It’s a natural partnership that’s providing them with something they really want — a live load and real-life training experience,” said Ray White, the food bank’s marketing and communications director. “And, of course, we’re getting free shipping. It just makes you feel good that things can come together in that way.”

Freddy Gregg, the academy’s director of training and placement, said the school’s other two locations in Louisiana often volunteer.

“I was aware of the service the food bank provided. I thought that would be a great opportunity for us to get some positive community involvement,” Gregg said.

The end result was a crew of about three student drivers and an instructor taking about 25,000 pounds of food three times a month to Warren . The drive is about 180 miles round trip.

The partnership, which began in the spring, has saved the food bank about $12,000 in transportation costs, White said.

“Obviously any savings we have gives us more money to go out and purchase food to have available to our agencies,” said T.J. Romine, the food bank’s chief operation officer.

The food bank still hires independent trucking agencies to pick up donations five days a week, which can average about $400 to $500 per load.

Other companies, including Stallion Transportation Group in Beebe, haul loads for the food bank, sometimes for free.

“[There are] associations that volunteer to take a load sometimes, but this is the first time we have a regular routine,” Romine said.

The Arkansas Foodbank is a nonprofit organization that serves 33 counties to help the half a million people in Arkansas suffering from hunger, White said. In 2010, the food bank distributed 13.2 million pounds of food to approximately 300 food agencies in the state.

White said with every dollar saved from partnering with the academy, “we have three meals available to people in Arkansas .”

Gregg said the academy has a little less than 70 students going for their commercial driver’s license through either the 20-week daytime course or the 25-week night course. The 460-hour courses are split between the classroom, studying the trucks and driving on interstates, two-lane roads and residential areas.

“We try to get them acclimated to as many different driving environments as we can,” Gregg said.

Gregg said the only real freight the students will haul is for the food bank.

“They kind of get a look that they might not ordinarily get through the training,” Gregg said.

By driving the route, students learn the importance of giving back to the community and the urgency of getting a product to its destination.

“I think it’s good to look out for the people who can’t feed themselves right now or just need assistance,” said student Hosea Harper, 42, of Little Rock .

“It’s part of the reality of the trucking industry because I got to drive over and back the truck into the dock and load the trailer. It was a good experience.”

The students drive the route near the end of their course, Gregg said.

White said the generosity of the academy has eased some of the burden.

“Our pantries are seeing longer lines and more need every weekend, we would love to have more support,” White said.

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