September 5-11 is National Trucking Week in Canada. During this week, we take the time to acknowledge and celebrate the 400,000 men and women in the trucking industry who keep Canada's freight and economy moving. Over the last 18 months, the importance of those who live their lives on the road – whether delivering food, medical supplies or toilet paper – certainly came into sharp relief.
But in the early days of COVID-19, a lot of truckers were without support, even while supporting us. Many truck stops were closed, as were other businesses that truckers relied on for essentials.
But in Glenholme, Nova Scotia, the Glenholme Loop Petro-Pass and restaurant stayed open. Not only was it open, but Crystal Blair (the owner who is affectionately called "Angel" by the truckers who pass through her stop) provided meals, free of charge, to any trucker who needed it.
I sat down with Crystal to hear about how things were at her truck stop during the first wave of COVID-19 and how she and her truckers are doing now.
PumpTalk: What were things like in the first few weeks of the pandemic?
Crystal: It was a very confusing time. People said I should close my restaurant, but when I was on social media, I saw that so many places were closed and truckers, who live on the road, couldn’t get a meal or find facilities – I knew I had to do something.
I didn’t want to put my staff at risk, so I didn’t ask them to come in. I figured out what I could do by myself, which was open up the showers and provide breakfast sandwiches, just for truckers, on a strictly take-out basis. I was often the only place open for hundreds of miles.
PT: And you provided the meals free of charge?
Crystal: Yes. Though several truckers did put in a contribution – I had a bucket on the counter. As soon as the community heard about what I was doing, they really rallied around the truckers. Donations came in – people starting sending them so that I could keep providing free meals and staying open. And food donations were sent from places like local produce companies and other businesses.
PT: How did truckers respond?
Crystal: Every trucker who came in was so kind and appreciative. Soon I had truckers coming in that I didn’t even know – they’d just heard of me from one of their buddies on the road. Even these days, I’ll occasionally have a driver come in and ask, “Are you Angel?”
A wonderful surprise from the truckers came later in the year when they started the Angel Diner's Chicken Light Cruise. It’s a fundraiser for the local community that they started in my honour. Last year, we donated money to families of the victims of the tragic Nova Scotia shootings. This year, the Cruise was held actually just a couple of weekends ago; we raised funds for Cystic Fibrosis – one of my customers has CF. Each year we plan to raise funds for a different cause.
PT: Now that it’s been about 18 months since the first wave of the pandemic, how are things different?
Crystal: Well, we’re open again to the general public – both take-out and eat in – with proper distancing. Still seeing lots of truckers, of course. The diner’s Facebook page isn’t quite as busy – I used to get 100s of messages a day. But I still post there. A lot of people found it to be place where they could get hopeful and positive messages during a time of isolation.
PT: And how are your truckers?
Crystal: So many of them are still isolating from their families, wanting to keep them safe. Places may be opening up, but truckers are cautious and concerned. They’re such a kind and loyal bunch. And most of them are family men and I know their wives quite well. One of them had a birthday recently and her favourite dessert is coconut crème pie – so I sent one to her for her birthday.
PT: Speaking of pie, I’ve seen on your Facebook page that your desserts often sell out, especially your blueberry cheesecake parfait! Any other trucker favourites?
Crystal: Fish and chips is popular. Big burgers. Any of my homemade specials, really.
PT: It’s been 18 months and we’re certainly not out of the woods entirely vis a vis the pandemic. But you’ve remained so positive. What are some of the best moments from the past year or so?
Crystal: It’s been so inspiring to see how the community has come together. The community helped feed all our truck drivers for free for over 3 months - so amazing! And now the truckers are giving back to the community with events like the Chicken Light Cruise. It’s been really wonderful to see.
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Crystal, thank you so much for sharing your story and for taking care of truckers during a very difficult time! Make sure you stop by Crystal’s Facebook page and leave a friendly hello.