North Platte community helps stranded truckers

By Deanna Nelson-Licking for Tri-State Livestock News

During World War II, thousands of volunteers gave of their time, groceries and money to serve troops passing through North Platte, Nebraska via troop trains. Over the course of the war it is estimated that the community served six million troops, sometimes meeting over 20 trains a day. The giving spirit is still alive and well in central Nebraska. 

Char Swalberg of North Platte runs a non-profit program sending care packages to deployed troops at Christmas time. She also helped facilitate collecting donations for flood victims in eastern Nebraska in the spring of 2019 and also for folks impacted by the wild fires in Colorado. Additionally, she is the one called upon to aid stranded truckers. “One year we found out they had shut down I80 and they were parking trucks along Walker Road. My daughter said why don’t we help feed them? So she made a deal with her boss at the local Dominoes Pizza and I got water and Gatorade and we passed them out to the truckers,” Swalberg said. “After that I told the director at Region 51 Emergency Management that it’s pretty easy for me to round up stuff if they ever need.” 

The blizzard of December 2022 might have made her regret that offer. “I had bought snacks and was bragging to my friends that I was going to be comfortable  during this blizzard until I woke up to a text from the director of Region 51 asking for help feeding stranded truckers.” 

Trucks were stopped along access roads, in parking lots and around the town of North Platte including in the golf course and rodeo arena parking areas, waiting for the storm to pass and the interstate to reopen.

Swalberg asked for donations on her Facebook page and reached out to local businesses. Dominoes donated 20 pizzas, Little Caesars Pizza and Wendy’s also gave food, grocery stores gave cases of water and the local Taco John’s gave a discount so she was able to purchase 200 meals. Others made and handed out 250 breakfast burritos. “There were more trucks than I’ve ever seen in my life parked here. We fed well over 400 meals, the first day I was passing food out for 10 hours and half the next day.” 

 She said very few of the truckers were prepared for the storm, only a few had supplies and most hadn’t even fueled up their trucks. Most had never even seen snow before let alone a record breaking blizzard. “One lady when we came up to her truck said she had prayed and prayed that someone would come help her, she had no food or water and was so thankful. Most of them were young and wearing flip flops and shorts. They had money but no food. They kept offering us money but we didn’t take it telling them that it was paid for by North Platte and Nebraska.” 

They ended up with more meals than needed as the Emergency Management did run buses back and forth to give rides to truckers and as soon as the interstate opened the town cleared out fast. So extra meals were shared with the local police department, firemen and the homeless shelter. 

“There were a lot more trucks than we expected but we helped a lot of guys and were prayed for and blessed by over 400. I’m already thinking ahead about how to manage the next time they shut down the interstate.”