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Trucking's efforts to pay it forward

What to do with $100? I’m sure most of us can come with a never-ending list of things to spend the money on – new clothes, video games, maybe even bills. But for 55 Truckload Carriers Assn. (TCA) members, the challenge is simple: pay it forward.

The idea, presented at the recent TCA Refrigerated Division annual meeting in Albuquerque, is not something new. In fact, a book and movie, starring Helen Hunt, Kevin Spacey, and Haley Joel Osment, were created based on the concept. But in trucking?

TCA member John Christner, president & CEO of John Christner Trucking, implemented a “Pay it Forward” program two years within his fleet to great success. He suggested TCA challenge its members with the program.

“The results [of this program] have been amazing, even phenomenal,” Christner said at the meeting. “This is about giving someone in your workforce the power to do something for mankind.”

Christner provided some of his employees with $100 as “seed money” and asked them to do something good with the money. Those employees purchased clothes for the homeless, groceries and gasoline for low-income families, and even contacted with outside vendors looking for matching grants to extend that first $100 even further, he said.

One story Christner told was of an employee who set up a dental appointment for a man. During the visit, the dentist discovered the man had oral cancer.

“Because of this one random act of kindness, the cancer was discovered early enough to save his life, and that’s a priceless achievement,” said Christner, who added that he borrowed the idea from another company.

Following Christner’s speech, 55 TCA members signed up for the “Pay it Forward” program. Christner gave each one $100 to get them started, along with instructions. He then suggested they provide the money to the employees about 3 weeks before Christmas and follow up with a meeting in January to learn how each used the money to influence lives.

“The power of an image campaign doesn’t lie solely in multi-million dollar ad campaigns. It’s also at the grass-roots level,” Gary Salisbury, TCA chairman, said. “Imagine the impact of what John Christner is asking us to do. When a recipient of the $100 asks who gave this to him, and our people respond, ‘This is courtesy of the trucking industry,’ that person is going to tell the story over and over again to all his friends and family. These people will continue to tell others. I can think of no more effective way to bring about change.”

“Expect a lot of tears and a lot of laughter,” said Christner. “As one of my mechanics once told me, ‘It’s not easy giving away $100.’ But we in the trucking industry have never been deterred by hard work. And the results are certain to be worth every dime.”

You don’t have to give $100 to someone; even the simplest acts can make a difference in someone’s life. My brother once paid for the meal for the family behind him in the drive-thru lane at McDonald’s. My wife and I donate many of the clothes our kids have outgrown to the local Goodwill. And while these acts are not life-changing alone, they are but a very small percentage of the charitable acts Americans engage in each and every day. Some are small; some are large; but all are worth the time and effort.