The call for help went out, and Ryan Hill stepped up.
But a visit from the local health authority derailed Hill’s initiative to provide home-cooked meals to passing truckers.
“I felt a little bit defeated, like what the hell?” he said, frustration evident in his voice.
“I didn’t get it. I was stuck on the fact that we weren’t charging for this.”
Hill, who owns NorthShore Construction in Sault Ste. Marie, heard stories for weeks about the hardships faced by truckers: No access to food, showers or even bathrooms.
Partnering with a like-minded individual on Facebook, the two set out to feed the truckers — starting April 10 with plans to offer supper every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
“Our first night out, I made homemade mac and cheese,” he said.
He’s no stranger to preparing meals, having served food to the United We Roll convoy when it passed through his northern Ontario town last year.
As word spread, food donations poured in.
“We just wanted to get some hot meals to truckers,” he said.
“Between Toronto and the Soo, there’s limited stuff they can get to.”
It’s a similar situation between Sault Ste. Marie and Thunder Bay, he said.
Hill, who’s had experience behind the wheel of trucks, knows the challenges drivers face during the COVID-19 crisis.
Despite giving the food away instead of selling it, Algoma Public Health officials told him Monday that he needed to cease immediately.
Their concern? He was preparing the food at home instead of a commercial kitchen.
But as word spread of the shutdown, local restaurants reached out offering kitchens to keep the program rolling.
“It looks like I’ve secured a kitchen and food handlers,” he said.
“If I can get it together by tomorrow night, I’ll be back out there tomorrow night.”
Despite the frustrations, he said it’s the genuine appreciation from the truckers that keeps him going.
“I had one driver tell me, ‘You’re the reason I’m taking my next load; if it wasn’t for people like you, I’d park my truck right now,’” he said.
Michael Park, public health inspector for Algoma Public Health, said the concern lies with the possibility of food not being prepared in a safe manner.
“Algoma Public Health applauds and loves seeing the passion our community has to come together to help out those in need,” he said. “We want to ensure that this help is not accidentally causing harm.”
He added almost half of foodborne illness comes from food made improperly in people’s homes.