Left: Big Truck is ready to roll; above: the trailer converts into a large office
Major Gary W. Haupt is General Secretary of The Salvation Army's Florida Division, USA
Big is Best
by Major Gary W. Haupt
The Big Truck. That’s what they call it. A simple name. Nothing fancy. Just a straightforward moniker describing a … big truck. The simplicity of it is a bit deceptive. You pull up to a location, press the right buttons and it converts from a trailer into an air-conditioned room about 24 feet wide and 48 feet long with a lift for wheelchairs. Ingenious really.
It is doubtful that the United Auto Workers GM (UAW/GM) fully appreciated its genius when they donated it to The Salvation Army in Michigan. It had been used as a travelling showroom, a kind of roving display.
The UAW/GM saw an opportunity to make a difference, so they did. There is no doubt that as a showroom it was useful. But, give it to The Salvation Army and turn it into a roving case management office, a mobile haven of help and caring, and it qualifies as genius.
Truthfully, not just anyone can operate it.
The Salvation Army in Chicago has assembled a crack team of volunteers to drive it, assemble it, love it. I met them. They are a bit fanatical about the machine, not for its own sake, but for what it means in attacking human suffering.
At the time of writing it is set up in Punta Gorda, Florida, USA, where it houses a team of case managers and counsellors guiding the Charlotte County victims of Hurricane Charley on the road to reclaiming their lives.
When I first encountered the Big Truck it had been dispatched to and set up in Arcadia, an unassuming little town in Desoto County, central Florida. There Charley’s wrath had been vented with particular fury on the residents, creating large pockets of homeless, foodless and sometimes hopeless refugees in need of material assistance and a listening ear.
Volunteer interviewers were stationed down the centre of the room and were speaking with each person, obtaining the modest amount of information needed to hand each one the voucher that opened the door to the food, water, baby food and other assistance available outside under a big tent.
The red shield on the back of the Big Truck says so much more than ‘The Salvation Army’. It says: ‘Here is help, here is safety, here is hope.’ You would be tempted to think that the fellows who drive the rig and set it up might not be aware of that. Just put the pedal to the metal and go on down the road. But I watched them that day. Any time one of the interviewers needed something to accomplish the job, they were right there – ‘Let me get that for you.’ That’s when I knew they understood.
Here is help … here is safety … here is hope.