Deni Watson has seen a lot in her career as both someone who has worked in the mental health and addictions field and most recently as a successful restauranteur.
With the pandemic and enforcement of social distancing, like all restaurants, Watson's popular Trukker's restaurant was forced to shut its doors to customers to comply with the rules.
So when customers started donating money in order to fully pay for meals for truckers who had no where to stop, Watson couldn't help but keep the kitchen open and some staff stayed fully employed. Truckers could stop for take-out meals which were fully paid for by the donations.
"My heart blew a few times," says the amiable Watson. "It was really awesome. A lot of the truck drivers were so grateful to get a free meal. You would hear all these stories of them not being allowed to eat. One guy told Watson he was charged $26 for an egg salad sandwich. We would put the word out there and we would tell them 'get what you want.' Some of them were so grateful."
Many truckers were not allowed to stop as the only places to eat were drive throughs and you needed a vehicle to do that. Truckers depend on truck stop restaurants on their long travels.
She said the feed the truckers free meals all started when a regular customer came in March 21 and dropped off $100 to pay for a truckers' meal in order to thank truckers for their bravery and essential work service during the pandemic. She went on the Trukkers Facebook site where she thanked the man publicly. Then another man dropped off some money and she thanked him on Facebook. Soon, there were more donations, publicly and anonymously. Watson was soon inundated by public donations to feed truckers. The idea just took off and without pushing it, Watson was able to distribute more than 1,000 meals and garner $14,000 in donations.
"It was not a time to solicit; I didn't fundraise or promote it," says Watson who knows this is not the time to solicit funds. "I wasn't asking people for money. It was really nice to see the momentum grow and see the truckers get recognized for what they do.”
After a CBC Alberta story on the Trukker’s donations appeared and Alberta Premier Jason Kenney shared her posts on social media, Watson explained she was getting donations from as far away as Calgary, Edmonton, and Sylvan Lake. Some of the donations pulled on the heartstrings as some donated GST cheques, some were in memorium.
"I am thinking (at this point) ‘we can do this’ and without asking, we started getting more and more donations," explains Watson, who says there was one day she was given $2,400 worth of meals. “The donations lasted so long. It just ended (May 26)."
Trukkers has a lot of regulars which includes many from Redcliff and southeast Alberta. With the large, wide open parking lot and just off of the TransCanada highway between Redcliff and Medicine Hat, many truckers would stop as well. Watson was told when she was (and soon will be again, hoping for Fathers’ Day) open 24-7, she was the only such stop on the TransCanada highway between Vancouver and somewhere in Sask.
“On Christmas, we are closed…always,” explains Watson.
Trukkers was open 31 years ago by Don Wong. It will be 13 years this September since Watson and her late husband purchased it from Wong who passed away eight years ago. Watson's husband passed away four years ago and she had a bit of doubt whether she could maintain it. However, because of the tight knit bond she has with not only her staff which rarely turns over but her regular customers creates a great atmosphere to go along with all of the popular dishes.