BALTIMORE – Donating several hundred loaves of bread to stranded motorists on an icy interstate highway on Jan. 4 brought national media attention to H&S Bakery. Chuck Paterakis, a principal owner and senior vice president of transportation and logistics for the Baltimore-based company, said he was interviewed over 30 times, including media outlets such as NBC Nightly News, CNN and Fox & Friends.
Heroes of the snowstorm story were the bakery, a veteran truck driver and a young married couple in their early 20s.
Traffic backed up on Interstate 95 in Virginia the night of Jan. 3 because of a snowstorm — The Baltimore Sun reported the line of vehicles stretched for 48 miles as 12 inches of snow eventually covered the land. The situation remained that way the morning of Jan. 4. Casey Holihan and her husband, John Noe, two of the stranded motorists, were driving to Newport, NC. They wanted to see Mr. Noe’s family before Mr. Noe, who is in the military, left for Germany for a four-year stint.
The couple had not eaten in hours.
“On Tuesday morning (Jan. 4) they woke up with no hope,” Mr. Paterakis said.
Then the couple spotted a truck owned by Schmidt Baking Co., which is owned by H&S Bakery. Ms. Holihan said her husband joked about how nice it would be to eat a loaf of bread.
“On a whim I gave them a call,” she said.
She called customer service for Schmidt Baking Co. and asked if the stranded motorists could have some bread from the truck. The customer service manager contacted Mr. Paterakis, who did not hesitate in approving the request. He said it fit with the company’s mission statement of creating a meaningful change in the community.
“In the family business you don’t have to sit there and ask 100 people or write a letter or go through a lot of red tape,” he said. “When my family, my brothers and sisters see something that is needed, especially for charity, we do the right thing on the spot. That made a huge difference in me calling back Casey in 20 minutes instead of me calling her back six hours later.”
He had Ms. Holihan, phone in hand, approach the truck and knock on the door.
Ron Hill, owner-operator of the truck, has carried Schmidt Baking Co. product for 14 years. He expected to drop off his load of 8,000 units of bread rolls in Norfolk, Va., on the afternoon of Jan. 3 and be home to eat dinner that night. Instead, he ended up in barely moving traffic. Then his truck did not move an inch from 8:30 p.m. Jan. 3 until 2 p.m. Jan. 4. Mr. Hill said he was crying and praying when Ms. Holihan knocked on the truck’s door.
“I’m a prayer warrior, and that was a prayer when she came,” he said.
Mr. Hill listened over the phone as Mr. Paterakis told him to open the back door of the truck and hand out the bread.
“He told me to be careful when I was handing the bread out,” Mr. Hill said of Mr. Paterakis. “He said, ‘Be careful and don’t let them bum-rush you.’”
The breaking of the bread went peacefully. The married couple and other volunteers walked along the highway handing out loaves of bread to the motorists in their vehicles. Ms. Holihan and Mr. Noe ended up being stranded for about 21 hours, but at least they had something to eat: a loaf of Old Tyme potato rolls and a loaf of Old Tyme wheat bread.
“Those potato rolls were incredible,” Ms. Holihan said.
Mr. Hill made it home the morning of Jan. 5.
Mr. Paterakis said H&S Bakery over the past two years has donated 2.5 million loaves of bread since COVID-19 started.
“All through that time we didn’t get any visibility compared to what happened the other day,” he said.
Ms. Holihan played a role. After she put photos on Facebook, the event went viral. Mr. Paterakis said the publicity from the story uplifted the spirits of his family, employees of H&S Bakery as well as customers and suppliers of the baking company.“People from overseas are calling us and texting us and sending emails, telling us how great this story is,” Mr. Paterakis said. “The bakery was part of the story. It was more Casey and John. They’re the heroes. They’re the ones who thought of this idea.”