As a city of Eau Claire bus driver, Phil Swanhorst was reminded of the need others face nearly every time he sat behind the wheel.
He noticed when he transported riders to The Community Table, a downtown Eau Claire site that serves meals daily to those in need.
He noticed when he took folks to the local food banks, locations that provide the means to make meals for those who can’t afford to do so.
He noticed when he dropped people of at the local job center, where they hoped to be linked to employment.
He noticed when he saw people get on the bus who wore worn or not enough clothing, people who seemed down on their luck.
Other bus drivers noticed too, Swanhorst said, and their compassion for others prompted them in 2002 to start the Stuff a Bus program in which drivers organized an effort to collect food donations and load the goods onto a bus, which they then drove to Feed My People Food Bank in Eau Claire.
“We drivers see the need every day when we drive,” said Swanhorst, who retired as a city bus driver two years ago but remains involved in the food drive. “When you see the need out there, you want to do something to help.”
Through the years members of the Almagated Transit Union Local 1310, which represents city bus drivers, have donated tens of thousands of pounds of food to the food bank, along with monetary donations.
The Stuff a Bus program was discontinued a few years ago but was revived last year. The collection occurred again this year, and in October the effort donated 3,506 pounds of food to Feed My People. Drivers also donated money to Feed My People to help the organization continue to buy food for people who need it.
“We are so grateful for this effort and the generous donations this group has made to us over the years,” said Emily Moore, executive director of Feed My People. “They are making a positive difference in this community.”
The bus drivers’ donations and those others make are especially important as the need to provide food for people struggling to get by continues to be high, Moore said. At the same time, she said, the bus drivers’ union is an example of more Chippewa Valley residents recognizing needs in the community and stepping up to help.
Swanhorst, the former bus drivers’ union president, said he hopes that continues to be the case. He said the situations of those he once transported continue to prompt him to try to do his part to help.
“Helping others is really what we’re supposed to do,” he said.
— Julian Emerson, reporter