Bert has been helping CUMAC feed people & change lives for over three years. As our driver, he travels around the area every day to pick up and distribute food for our neighbors in need. Depending on the time of day, you might see him collecting donations from a food drive at a local business, dropping off items to one of our partner pantries or rescuing food from a local supermarket. Collecting and dropping off so many donations is not an easy job. Bert typically has an assistant helping him on his route. However, this month we were short staffed one day so I volunteered to join him for the morning until more help was available. I’m glad that I did. I thought I’d share some of my experience with all of you. Here’s what a morning with Bert looks like…
8:00am: Bert arrives at CUMAC. He makes himself a cup of coffee and gets to work. After checking the trucking schedule, he plans out his day and catches up on any unfinished paperwork.
9:00am: After tying up some loose ends, Bert grabs his clipboards and heads for the parking lot. It’s pouring out and the wind is starting to pick up. He hopes the traffic won’t be too bad today.
9:10am: Our day begins. We hop in the truck and buckle up. Bert turns the key, but the engine is slow to start. After a few seconds, it finally gets going. Bert sighs in relief and turns to me. “If you’re going to do the job, you need the right tools. A truck is number one,” he says. “We’re going to need a new truck sooner than later” he tells me. “I’ve been taking good care of this one, but every truck has its lifespan. This truck has been on the road for a long time.” Bert quickly checks the truck’s mileage and we hit the road.
9:30am: Despite the weather, the traffic is surprisingly light and we get to BJ’s just in time to secure the final open spot on their loading dock. Bert tells me that it’s important to get to the store early to avoid any lines. He knows that well because BJ’s is a regular supporter of CUMAC, donating food two to three times per week to our pantry. We enter and Bert is greeted with countless smiles and good mornings. After a quick chat with the staff, we’re shown where our food is located. With the help of their team we’re able pack the truck in just a few minutes. We’re off to a great start! As we walk out, we notice three vehicles waiting in line for our spot. Bert smiles. “Good timing” he says.
10:14am: Our truck heads down the road to Trader Joe’s in Paramus, another partner that has been supporting CUMAC for years. Different store, same staff reaction: Bert is greeted with a rush of hugs and handshakes. Bert explains the pick up process and we get right to work, loading the vehicle in a way that will leave us with enough space for the remaining donations. Bert tells me that taking a couple of extra minutes to pack strategically always saves him time in the long run. So we carefully pack box after box, nearly a thousand pounds of fruits and vegetables included. What a workout! 15 minutes later the truck is fully loaded. We take a quick breather and head out the door. Bert tells me he’s happy for the extra help today.
It’s crazy to think that years ago much of this perfectly good food would have been thrown away. Fortunately, nowadays more stores are taking action against hunger (and food waste) by donating their extra items to places like CUMAC. Our team and clients are happy about that!
It’s 10:34am, our truck has an abundance of food and the weather is starting to improve. There’s plenty to smile about as we get ready for our next stop. As we hit the road, I joke with Bert that he should run for mayor. Everywhere we go people are thrilled to see him and that’s no surprise. Bert is one of the friendliest people you’ll ever meet. Even on his busiest days, he always has time to ask you about your day or make you laugh. He truly cares about those around him. Picking up donations every day, Bert tells me that many of the staff and donors have become his friends. If Bert takes a day off, he hears about it immediately. “Where were you yesterday?” they’ll ask. “We missed you!” It’s no surprise that he is a favorite for so many. Bert loves coming to work every day and getting the chance to thank and talk to those who make CUMAC’s work possible.
As we head to Wyckoff, Bert and I discuss an array of topics – hobbies, food, and philosophy to name a few. He tells me about his previous work as a service manager in the auto industry and the trucking company he once owned. We also talk about Bert’s family and how his dad would always help those in need in their hometown in Brazil. His father’s kindness toward others has always stayed with him he says. Bert is happy to have a job that allows him to help his community in the same vein. With so many of our neighbors struggling to get the resources they need, Bert hates turning down a pick up and he’ll often jump through hoops if it means someone can be helped. He may have to rearrange his schedule, come in early or stay late, but he always finds a way to get the job done, even with CUMAC down a driver and short on help.
10:49am: We arrive at the Grace United Methodist Church in Wyckoff, another incredible partner in our work. A lovely woman named Christine, who is in the middle of packing shoes for needy children in Haiti, takes a break from her project to show us where to go. The church’s shelves are packed with donations. Bert and I take turns running out the items. We load over 40 bags of clothing and hygiene products, as well almost 200 pounds of food! Before we wrap up, we chat with Christine for a couple of minutes and she tells us about the project she’s working on. We wish her luck and say our goodbyes. One more stop to go.
11:14 am: We buckle up and head to Costco. More fun conversation with Bert. He tells me that the next trip is different than the others because we’re not only picking up food for CUMAC, we’re also picking up food for another agency who has trouble getting to Hackensack. Bert makes pick ups like these all the time as part of our depot services. CUMAC’s Depot assists a collection of over 40 agencies in our community by picking up, storing and/or delivering food and other resources for them. With hunger affecting over 1 million NJ residents, our team realized a long time ago that we must work together to help stop food insecurity in our area. The Depot allows us to do that every day.
11:39am: We arrive at Costco in Hackensack, a store that has been regularly supporting CUMAC for several years, and our food is waiting for us. Their staff surprises us by offering a full pallet of milk. Bert is thrilled with the news and gladly accepts. In order to accept the milk we’ll need to make more space in the truck so we start rearranging the donations to squeeze in another pallet. After a few minutes, the space is clear and the extra pallet slides right in. Bert and I thank their team for the donation and head on our way. We’re making great timing!
As we head closer to CUMAC, Bert turns to me and smiles. “We’re heavy today, my friend. We had a good day.” It takes a second for that to sink in with me. I stop and pay closer attention. The truck was heavy, and now that he mentioned it I could feel all the weight as we cruised closer to our destination. Bert is all smiles because there will be lots of food to share with our clients this afternoon. Next stop: CUMAC.
12:37pm: We’re finally back at our building. We arrive to the smiling faces of our team. Our parking lot is now full and the warehouse is in full swing. We begin to unload today’s pick up, and with volunteers and staff around to help, the truck is empty in no time.
I head back to the office, but Bert’s day on the road is far from over. Heyward, our Warehouse Assistant, will join him for the afternoon and good thing — Bert has several more stops to make. This afternoon he’ll be picking up items from a few local food drives, and gifts for our Wish List program.
I only spent a few hours on the truck with Bert, but the experience gave me a new found appreciation for what he does every day. It also reminded me of just how much of what CUMAC accomplishes revolves around teamwork. From the groups and businesses donating food to the volunteers unloading our trucks, our community is collaborating in an incredible way. Thank you to BJ’s, Trader Joe’s, Grace UMC, Costco and all our supporters for everything you do to help us keep our community hunger-free. Last but not least, I’d like to say thank you to Bert for all his hard work and dedication. Through his tireless efforts, CUMAC is reaching more people than ever. We’re truly lucky to have someone like him at the wheel!