Melissa Carson, who prepared and donated hundreds of hot meals to essential long-haul truckers during the pandemic, has been honoured with an ABEX Award in Saskatchewan’s largest and longest-running business awards program. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 ABEX Awards shifted from its traditional celebration of business success to recognizing businesses and individuals who have become everyday heroes in the province.
Carson, of Weyburn, received an ABEX award of merit in recognition of her project to feed truckers during the pandemic lockdown this spring.
Carson began her project once the lockdowns began around March 20, as a state of emergency was declared for the province of Saskatchewan. She was affected as she is a caretaker at the Weyburn Comprehensive School, and had a week off before she returned to work.
Her parents are truckers, and told her that truck drivers were declared essential workers, yet truck stops and restaurants had to close down, leaving the drivers with no way to get any food while delivering the goods that were needed.
Carson started making meals for her parents to take with them on the road, and then had the idea of going to Weyburn’s main truck stop, the Co-op Crossroads location, and offer home-made hot meals to the truckers who stopped there.
Carson said this surprised many of the truckers, even moving some to tears, and most of them offered her a donation to offset the costs of the meal.
“Most truckers said they don’t want free meals, they just wanted food that’s not something out of a box, but something that was homemade,” she said. If they didn’t offer to provide a donation, she didn’t ask for one, but noted the vast majority of the truckers did give her a donation for the food.
During one stretch, she provided meals to truckers for 57 days in a row. To date, she has made about 1,000 meals .
Mostly she cooked casseroles, such as baked lasagna or mac and cheese, spaghetti, beef stew, or ham and scalloped potatoes. She began to get repeat drivers, and they learned to request their favourites if they knew they would be passing through Weyburn.
“I had truckers who hadn’t had a hot meal in four weeks,” she said. “They were surprised, and you could just see the joy in their faces.”
Asked if truckers made requests for a meal, she said, “If I knew they were coming in, they would often request their favourite meal.”
“I appreciate truckers. Even before COVID, they were essential. When you grow up with parents who are truckers, you appreciate what they do. I grew up in a truck. Every holiday, I’d go on trips with my dad — I loved it,” said Carson.
While most places are more or less back to normal service, she will still get a call once in a while from one of her repeat truckers. She noted she had a request recently for an order of 20 frozen meals. She also still makes meals for her parents while they’re home from a long haul before they head out on the road again.
As far as the awards – she also received $5,000 from Conexus Credit Union from their Kindness Capital Fund in August – she was surprised and delighted.
“It was totally unexpected,” said Carson. “I never wanted recognition for this, but it was nice to get recognized for it.”
Other than the one week off, she remained working full-time from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. every day during the lockdown, so her meal preparation and deliveries all took place after work and on the weekends.