As he watched the news coverage of Hurricane Harvey, Justin Spannuth worried about his wife Melissa's family and friends who were in its destructive path through Texas.
Although he couldn’t stop the Category 4 hurricane and the flooding, Spannuth, vice president and chief operating officer of Unique Pretzel Bakery in Reading, realized he was in a position to help: He could send pretzels. By the truckload.
And then he could ask other executives who run food companies in Berks County and the region to contribute what they make. And then they could all send it down to Texas in a caravan of tractor-trailers stuffed with pretzels, potato chips, apples, deli meats, chocolate and other snack foods made in the region.
And so it began.
“It was the Monday after the hurricane hit. I just sent an email to everyone I knew who was a local retailer and food manufacturer, usually a small to mid-sized company,” Spannuth said.
“The expense of the logistics is one of the hardest things. We were fortunate to have a distributor, United Natural Foods Inc., willing to donate three tractor-trailers and their warehouse to take products down to Texas to distribute to the Red Cross and charities.”
A fourth trailer, paid for by Just Born Inc. in Bethlehem and filled with its candy, also joined the group.
Nearly all of the companies were able to contribute products. Unique Bakery’s warehouse was a central drop-off point for the items, which included water bottles donated by Redner’s, Rutter’s and Clover Farms.
The companies that participated were: Appeeling Fruit; Berks Fire & Water Restoration; Berks Foods; Clover Farms, Dieffenbach’s Potato Chips; Just Born; Martin’s Potato Chips; Pardoe’s Perky Peanuts; Redner’s Markets; Rutter’s Markets; RM Palmer; Tom Sturgis Pretzel Bakery; Unique Bakery; and UNFI.
Unique Bakery’s staff wrapped and loaded each of the 53-foot tractor-trailers, which included one refrigerated trailer. By the time the trucks rolled out last Thursday and Friday, each of the trailers contained about 8,000 pounds of food and a ton of water.
“Everyone was awesome to work with,” Spannuth said. “It was a really cool experience to be able to coordinate something like that.”
Stephen Cygan, CEO of Appeeling Fruit in Dauberville, was one of the companies that was happy to respond.
“We determined we were ready and able to send about 8,400 servings of fresh apple slices down there,” Cygan said.
Although his company has always been involved in charitable donations and fundraisers, it had never done anything on this scale.
Appeeling sent a pallet of one of its standard products, a two-ounce individual portion size package of fresh apple slices. The packages, which have a shelf life of 21 days under refrigeration, are often used in school lunch programs up and down the East Coast, Cygan said.
“We felt we could do the most good with this size and hit the most people we could with that unit size,” he said.
As for Spannuth’s relatives, they fared pretty well.
“They had mild damage, some water and wind damage, but it was nothing compared to a lot of other people who suffered,” he said.