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Florida transportation officials, police officers and trucking association representatives recently teamed to distribute free meals to truckers at a rest area on Interstate 75 as an act of appreciation during the coronavirus pandemic.
Representatives from these groups gave away 500 meals in a span of two hours at an appreciation event May 7. As restaurants have shuttered due to the virus, truck drivers in many cases are finding limited options. The food was sponsored by the Florida Trucking Association, Chick-fil-A, Publix Super Markets and Walmart Inc.
“It’s important for everyone in the trucking industry to see how the public in general is acknowledging all their hard work,” FTA Vice President Alix Miller said. “We’re just seeing this remarkable outpouring of thanks from Americans at this time. We all need to remember how hard these men and women work every day. There’s nothing new about these truck drivers working hard and leaving home and delivering goods.”
. @FDOT_Secretary and staff joined @FloridaTrucking and @FLHSMV (#FHP) to hand out 500 free meals to Florida’s truck drivers. Thank you to @FloridaTrucking, @ChickfilA, @publix, and @walmart Transportation for generously sponsoring meals for these essential workers. pic.twitter.com/FNCaDHllmJ— FLORIDA DOT (@MyFDOT) May 7, 2020
The event took place along I-75 southbound at a rest area near Ocala in Marion County, which lies in the north-central portion of the state. I-75 runs from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to Miami and passes through Florida for 470 miles, forming a key north-south corridor.
Truckers receive free meals. (Florida Department of Transportation)
I-75 is important for freight movement in Florida. Miller said that, on any given day, one-third of all vehicles on I-75 in Marion County are commercial trucks. She also pointed out that tourist attractions in the area, particularly near Orlando, create a large demand for freight.
“It is the central vein of the state,” Miller said. “It is one of the most important routes.”
Trucking itself is important to Florida. According to FDOT, approximately 38,000 trucking companies are in the state. The trucking industry accounts for 1 in 21 jobs in Florida.
“FDOT is proud to support Florida’s truck drivers who have continued to work tirelessly during the fight against COVID-19,” FDOT Secretary Kevin Thibault said. “These individuals are on the front lines each day providing vital goods to Floridians during this unprecedented time — keeping shelves stocked, medicine delivered and supplies directed to those most in need. Their selflessness is inspiring, and the department is committed to continuing to support their needs as they serve others.”
Miller said that Florida government representatives and trucking industry leaders are accustomed to working together in times of distress, noting the large number of hurricanes the state experiences.
“With FDOT and Florida Highway Patrol, we have an amazing partnership working together,” Miller said. “Florida’s always ahead of the curve when it comes to emergencies. On a normal day, we’re in touch with each other every day. In these situations, we communicate with them five [or] six times a day to make sure freight is moving safely and efficiently and everyone has what they need.”
Florida is one of several states to hold events recognizing truckers during the pandemic. The Illinois Department of Transportation is working with volunteer organizations to give away meals at certain weigh stations. Indiana and Arizona have launched programs to allow licensed food trucks to operate at highway rest areas to serve commercial motor vehicle drivers.