Hero James Sadler: Providing Aid After Catastrophic Storms

Hero James Sadler

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Floridians have in recent years suffered through severe hurricanes that brought devastation to local communities, and through each one James Sadler set out to ensure supplies and food were available both before and after these storms make landfall.

As the Director of Transportation and Fleet Maintenance for Publix Super Markets, Sadler is a leader in army of truck drivers and other professionals who have the equipment, processes and supplies to ensure people get the aid they need in the wake of a storm.

During three of Florida’s most recent storms — Hurricanes Ian, Nicole and Idalia — Sadler coordinated efforts by the employee-owned supermarket for delivery of a total of 1,425 trailer loads of water and 200 trailer loads of ice.

“The most significant challenges to providing relief after a hurricane passes, are [assessing if] can you safely access impacted areas and logistics due to road closures and accessibility. Power outages are also another opportunity. The team evaluates road and weather conditions, then we evaluate the ability of our drivers to safely make deliveries. I cannot stress enough the importance of safety, which is the first thing we consider in everything we do,” he explained.

Sadler is being recognized as one of Transport Topics ’ Trucking’s Frontline Heroes for 2023 on Oct. 17 during American Trucking Associations’ Management Conference & Exhibition in Austin, Texas.

Trucking's Frontline Heroes is an annual award series presented by Transport Topics that recognizes the brave men and women who go above and beyond the call of duty to meet the challenges the industry faced over the past year. In 2023 we recognize:
Anthony Shipp
James Sadler 
Look back at past years' heroes

Sadler and his team in November 2022 delivered aid to communities near Vero Beach affected by Hurricane Nicole. Publix also was on hand with assistance after Hurricane Idalia on Aug. 30 slammed into shore near Keaton Beach, about 75 miles southwest of the state’s capital city of Tallahassee, with its Category 3 sustained winds reaching 125 mph.

In a Sept. 3 report on Idalia storm relief, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis noted that the state was working with Publix to send supplies to Levy County, which was severely affected. He noted that Publix donated a truckload of food and two pallets of water to residents to assist in the recovery while utility linemen restored power. In addition, Publix donated over 800 Publix sub sandwiches.

Sadler added that Hurricane Ian in September 2022 stands out in his mind due to the damage it wrought on the isolated region of Pine Island.

The community had been devastated and isolated on Florida’s largest barrier island along the Gulf Coast after the storm made landfall in 2022. The Category 4 hurricane, with maximum sustained winds of 155 mph, was the strongest hurricane to hit the state in years. In Lee County alone, Hurricane Ian damaged approximately 52,500 buildings, of which more than 5,000 were completely destroyed. Storm surge washed away bridges and roads, and for a time boats and helicopters were the only transportation modes able to reach Pine Island.

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“Pine Island was cut off from the mainland after the only road and bridge to the island was severely damaged,” Sadler noted. “This left the people on the island without power and vital supplies like food, water and ice. The bridge and road were repaired in record time and some of the first vehicles to cross over the bridge were Publix tractors and trailers carrying the much-needed supplies for that community. That was a very proud moment for the entire Publix team.” On one Saturday alone, Publix distributed nearly 8,000 gallons of water and 75,000 pounds of ice at Next Level Church in Fort Myers to people affected by the storm.

Publix trucks and ice pallets

During three of Florida’s most recent storms, Sadler coordinated efforts for delivery of 1,425 trailer loads of water and 200 trailer loads of ice. (Publix)

“Throughout these types of weather-related activities, we also stay connected to our community partners at American Red Cross and United Way, as well as other nonprofit organizations, to best understand community needs and outreach,” Sadler said.

Coordination within his company is also key. “The transportation team is part of a much larger cross-functional emergency response team at Publix. Responding to these events takes a tremendous amount of communication and planning between the different business areas and teams across our company and community stakeholders external to our company,” Sadler said.

They are an extremely dedicated and hardworking group of associates that go above and beyond time after time.

James Sadler, Director of Transportation and Fleet Maintenance for Publix Super Markets, on his truck drivers

James Sadler

“In addition, to supporting our neighbors in hurricane preparation by delivery supplies and food to our stores while it is safe to do so, after any weather disruption our Publix Transportation team coordinates delivery of the much-needed supplies to our retail stores and we support the efforts of our community relations team in assisting with recovery efforts,” Sadler said. “This includes delivering ice and water that is donated to residents in hard-hit communities as well as first responders.”

At the corporate level, the company also chips in.

“When appropriate, we’ll make donations from Publix and Publix Charities, as well as activate register campaigns to assist these nonprofits in their community outreach efforts.”

Publix trucks and canned goods

Canned goods are prepared for delivery to aid victims by Publix trucks. (Publix)

Publix Super Markets Charities donated $1 million to nonprofit organizations, including the American Red Cross and United Way, to support relief efforts in areas affected by Hurricane Ian. At the same time, it activated a donation campaign so customers and associates could lend a hand by giving at the checkout stations in stores, with 100% of proceeds going to the American Red Cross. It took similar action after Hurricane Idalia.

Sadler, who is starting his 35th year with Publix, has been in his current role for nearly three years and has been instrumental at Publix in providing hurricane relief, but he prefers to give credit to his team — in particular, its 1,500 truck drivers..

“They are an extremely dedicated and hardworking group of associates that go above and beyond time after time,” Sadler declared.

He noted that Publix drivers received a hero’s welcome when they were escorted to Pine Island by Lee County Sheriff’s officers in the wake of Hurricane Ian. What Sadler finds most meaningful in providing hurricane relief is “knowing that we played a part in getting much-needed supplies to people that are in impacted communities.”

He continued, “Publix is part of the communities we serve. We live and work in the very same communities. In times of need, Publix is there to serve, whether that means remaining open while safe to do so prior to the storm making landfall and reopening shortly after the storm passes as soon as it is safe to do so, ensuring our stores continue to receive deliveries and working with our supplier community on product availability, to donating dollars and needed supplies like and ice and water immediately following a storm, we work together.”

Sadler emphasized that Publix employees strive to show their dedication during times of greatest need.

“We pride ourselves on knowing the most and caring the most about the products we sell and the people and communities we serve. We are a vital part of the fabric of each community we serve across the Southeast,” Sadler said. “For 93 years, we have been committed to taking care of our customers, associates and communities.”

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