RICHMOND, Va. -- While many are self-quarantined at home with the prospect, there's a select group of men and women behind the scenes, behind the wheel, helping to resupply empty store shelves.
The truck drivers of America are on the front lines, getting food and medical supplies to stores.
"We've got 3.5 million truck drivers across this country," Dale Bennett, President Virginia Trucking Association, said. "The professional men and women that earn their living as truck drivers are extremely important and essential to our way of life."
"It's more of a career than a job," Abilene Motor Express driver Allen Smith said.
When COVID-19 sent shoppers to stores, Smith and other drivers knew what was about to happen to their industry.
"Now with this, it's like a big demand keeping trucks running," Smith said.
Demand unlike anything many in the industry have seen.
"To have something happen across the entire country, I'd say this is the first time for me," Alan Jones, President of Richmond-based Abilene Motor Express, said. "We talk about first responders and in a situation like this, in my mind, truck drivers are first responders as well, today."
As demand for moving freight quickly escalated, Jones realized changes had to be made.
"Well there's a surge obviously from grocery stores, so we've had to re-allocate some of our fleet to service grocery stores," he said. "So we've got 35-40 trucks currently running in the southeast to supply [Publix]. The demand has overwhelmed their own fleet."
For some drivers, the surge means more time behind the wheel.
"My average is about 2,5005 to 3,000 miles a week, on a normal week," driver Allen Smith said. "Two weeks ago, I hit 4,000 miles."
It's not just Abilene, according to Dale Bennett.
"Because of the demand for groceries and food and medicines and supplies, they're a number of companies that have seen a real surge in their business and are having to hire drivers and put on Trucks to meet that demand," he said.
Driver Mike Hanks said he and fellow driver owe a debt of gratitude to some other unsung heroes.
"I would like to thank the truck stop employees," he said. " They're out there giving us a place to eat, sleep, shower, and use the restroom. They are doing so at a much greater risk of infection than I have."
Abilene Motor Express President Alan Jones said his companies and others like his continue to grow to help meet the demand.
"I can speak for Abilene and the other companies I interact with, we're hiring, we're growing, we think we'll come out of this stronger, bigger, better company," he said.
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