Truckers present a Christmas miracle

Reading time: approx. 4 minutes
Text: Juliane Gringer
Photos: privat

As a “Christmas Trucker” Stefan Giuliani travels to poor regions of Eastern Europe every year to distribute aid packages to the needy. Using a 40-tonne truck from REICHHART Logistik GmbH, he brings food and hygiene products to people for whom these are the most precious gifts.

Sugar, flour, rice and toothpaste: a package of everyday things like these is a great gift for some people. As part of the relief action “Christmas Trucker“, Johanniter brings thousands of donated parcels of food and hygiene products to suffering and needy children, families, senior citizens and people with disabilities in Eastern Europe every year at the end of December. Volunteers drive the shipments by truck to Albania, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Romania and Ukraine – to small towns and hard-to-reach mountain villages, to soup kitchens, Roma settlements and to regions difficult to access. In five long convoys, the truckers head for around 270 distribution points and present the local people with a small Christmas miracle. One of the truck drivers is Stefan Giuliani from Kötz in Swabia. He became aware of the Christmas truckers about ten years ago through an acquaintance who is involved in the campaign himself: “He showed me photos and told me about his tours. I was immediately determined to take part”.

Passion for truck driving

Stefan Giuliani, who has also been involved in the voluntary fire brigade for 25 years, is happy to help, and he prefers to do it himself. “I am not the type of person who simply donates money and trusts that something good will happen with it,” says the experienced truck driver. He once financed his studies with tours in a truck. “And because I enjoy it so much, I still drive on the side. “He has taken a part-time job as a trucker so that he can still sit in the truck regularly. To join the Christmas truckers, Giuliani needed a vehicle – and that was not easy to find. “For two years I phoned my way from haulage companies to driving schools to providers of driver safety training, but achieved nothing. It seemed hopeless,” he recalls. “Then an acquaintance said she could ask REICHHART Logistik, that was her logistics partner – they were nice and would definitely do that. I didn’t believe it would work, but just a phone call later it was clear: you’re in!

»I’m not the type of person who just gives money and trusts that something good will happen with it.«

For ten years now, he has been able to use a 40-tonne trailer truck of the logistics company for the campaign. “Although we did not know each other at all, the company supported me from the very first second. I really liked that,” says Giuliani. For Michael Jackl, Managing Partner of REICHHART Logistik, it is “a matter of concern to show a sign of solidarity in this campaign together with other companies, volunteer drivers and the many voluntary helpers”. He is particularly pleased about the many years of trusting cooperation with the driver: “Mr. Giuliani is helping to ensure that thousands of aid packages reach those in need safely. For many people, these packages are a ray of hope and show them that they are not forgotten in their misery. This is what we are happy to support”.

Many formative impressions

In the first year, the helper, who works as deputy head of customer service at a company for automotive engineering, travelled to Albania, then several times to Romania, and in 2019 to Bulgaria. Usually he spends six days on a mission: the journey to the countries takes about two days, two days he is on site, and another two days are needed for the return journey. During these tours he has experienced formative moments. “At our destination, we meet very poor people who hardly know whether they will survive the next year or succumb to illness or starve to death. Many of them are old, sick and injured,” he says. “Often they only have what they can grow themselves or trade with neighbours. And so it is hard to imagine how great the joy is about such simple things as food and toothpaste, which we take for granted. The recipients are infinitely grateful: “They wait for us for hours in the cold. Children present us with self-drawn pictures. A farmer in Romania, although he has almost nothing, gave us a bag of three walnuts – it was important to him to give something back.”
When Stefan Giuliani and the other helpers roll up with their trucks, people often wait for them for hours. In addition to food and hygiene items, the packages also contain small gifts for children.
Giuliani also takes oppressive impressions home with him. “I see a lot of suffering. As a Central European, you can hardly imagine that such bad conditions still exist – and some of them in EU countries. It is part of this commitment that not everything you experience is beautiful. The Christmas truckers mainly head for rural regions. Life there is characterised by poor infrastructure and high unemployment, and there are hardly any health care and educational opportunities for children. Back in Germany Giuliani often needs a few weeks to process his impressions. “If someone here in a restaurant complains that their steak is not properly cooked, I see it in a completely different light. A visit to the Romanian city of Cluj is particularly memorable. “There is a rubbish dump on the outskirts of the city where a group of people have lived for generations,” he reports. “They feed on rubbish and live in complete seclusion. The parcels are urgently needed there, but our intervention was not without danger either: we were accompanied by two police cars, which were supposed to protect us from possible assaults”.

Hardly any winter road maintenance and much corruption

Other challenges can be punctures on the road, for example due to tyre damage. “We are usually on the road with more than 40 trucks plus countless support vehicles – something happens every year,” says Giuliani. “I have been very lucky so far, because I have always been able to drive very new and well-maintained vehicles, there have not been any technical problems yet. But the weather is always unpredictable – and beyond Hungary there are hardly any functioning winter services. If it ever snows or freezes there, we are pretty much on our own and can see how things go on”. They are also sometimes exposed to the corruption of the police, customs officers and border guards: “Sometimes we get stuck at a border for hours because we are accused of overloaded axles or missing papers. Once, when I was held up for a long time in a border office, I was allowed to drive on after a lot of back and forth and a generous donation of two bars of chocolate and three rolls of biscuits and was able to try to catch up with the convoy. But it makes you feel a bit queasy.”
The Christmas truckers bring the parcels as directly as possible to people who need help urgently. Stefan Giuliani usually hands over the donations personally.
To be absolutely sure that the parcels reach people who really need them – this is a very important motivation for Stefan Giuliani to take part in the “Christmas Trucker” campaign every year. “When I take photos of our outreaches and show them to friends and acquaintances at home, many people join in and donate as well – it simply creates trust when you see that this help really gets through.” In the target regions, Johanniter works together with partners such as parishes, schools, private initiatives or other aid organisations, who have a good overview of who needs help and can support a fair distribution.

Campaign takes place again this year

In 2020 Stefan Giuliani again parked two swap bodies in Schweinfurt and Würzburg. Donation packages will be collected there. “Of course we hope that the local population will again be prepared to support us strongly this year.” At least 1,200 parcels must be put into a truck, then it can leave after Christmas Eve. This year, however, planning is also difficult due to the Corona pandemic. “We do not know yet when we will be able to drive,” says Giuliani. “We will not head for risk areas in order to protect ourselves. But what is certain is that the campaign will also take place in 2020, parcels will be collected and they will be distributed. Right now, people need us even more.”
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