Kindness, by the truckload

A bad situation was turned into a Christmas blessing when, on the evening of Dec. 23, a semi-truck carrying groceries caught on fire and was partially burned near The Dalles.

Guzman Bros Mobile Repair and Towing was called to the scene to pick up the trailer, where Jose Guzman was told to dispose of the load.

The grocery store could not accept the shipment due to the damage the truck had sustained, said Guzman. But he didn’t want to let food go to waste when there are so many who need it. Even though he was told there wasn’t a way to save the food, he knew he had to try, and was granted permission.

“I look outside the box and try to find a way to make things happen,” Guzman said. “I couldn’t see all that food going to waste. There are a lot of needy people who could use it, and it was the right thing to do.”

Guzman loaded the food onto his flat-bed tow truck with help from many in the Hood River community. Sgt. Jess Flem, David Durham, Doug Johnson, a friend visiting from Redmond, brothers Andy and Daniel, and Kenny DeVille are just some of the people who came to help him salvage what he could and take both food and trailer back to his yard on Tucker Road.

At first, Guzman wanted to make up a couple of gift baskets for people he knew who needed help but wouldn’t think to ask for it. He took a basket to an elderly couple he knows, and “they really had no food in the house,” he said. “What they had wouldn’t last one of my kids half a day. That’s when I realized I had to do something different.”

On Christmas Eve, he called his friend Jim Tomson, who attends Tucker Road Baptist Church, to ask for help in distributing the food. Tomson called Pastor Patrick Tapia, who told him to open up the church to use as a distribution base.

Guzman wanted to remain anonymous, but word spread quickly. Ryan’s Juice donated the use of a refrigerated trailer to keep the food at the right temperature — most of what was salvageable was dairy products and frozen foods. Church parishioners called individuals they knew who needed food, as well as organizations who distribute food daily, said Tapia. They also made food baskets. Friends and family of Guzman’s also came to help, and then other area churches got involved, too.

They’ve been working on distributing the food ever since. “We had enormous support packing boxes for families,” said Diana Tomson. “It was just an awesome thing.”

“I was so overjoyed, this being the Christmas season and we have a lot of folks without food,” said Tapia. “It was a faith-given thing that just happened.” He credits Guzman’s compassion and Tomson’s initiative for both saving and distributing the food.

Most of it has been distributed through churches, said Diana Tomson, because “Jose was adamant that he wanted this to go to families in need at Christmas. What’s left over will be distributed to organizations around town like the woman’s shelter and Senior Center.”

Some food boxes were simply delivered by Guzman and his friends to various housing areas in town. He wanted to make sure those who are often forgotten and don’t ask for help were served.

“A big group of people trying to do something good from a bad situation” is how Guzman describes what happened after that semi overturned that night. “I did it because there were people who could use (the food). A truck in an unfortunate situation turned into a fortunate situation.”

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