Rex Wilson and Cathy Henderson sat in the truck beside a Wichita on-ramp, flashers on, traffic piling up behind them, with 511 lbs of food strewn across two lanes of pavement.
“Maybe we should call 911,” Henderson told Wilson.
They were in shock, Henderson said later.
Wilson and Henderson had just loaded a palette of goods from Wichita Food Bank into the bed of Wilson’s 2008 Chevrolet Silverado. Wilson and Henderson, both of Marion, were headed back to Marion Resource Center and Food Bank.
Wilson hadn’t driven but half a mile from the bank to the on-ramp to Interstate 135 when the food fell out.
“For some unknown reason it just flopped over, and boxes of bread and rolls and cakes and pies scattered all over the highway,” Wilson said.
As the two were debating calling for police assistance, a car pulled up behind them, and a woman got out. Then another. Then another pulled to the side of them to block traffic from running over the food.
Wilson, Henderson, and the three individuals — whose names neither Wilson or Henderson ever got — commenced clearing the highway and reloading Wilson’s truck.
“They stayed right with us 20 to 30 minutes, till we got it all picked up,” Henderson said. “They were very gracious; it was just amazing.”
They said without help, they would have had difficulty getting it cleaned up.
“I didn’t know but what we’d have to leave it there — seriously,” Henderson said. “It’s just that neither Rex or I are great physical specimens.”
Perhaps most remarkably, nearly all the food remained in its packaging.
“I don’t think there was anything that wasn’t salvageable, except for one little bag of dinner rolls popped open, and when I picked it up, two dinner rolls popped out,” Wilson said. “I left those for the birds.”
The load included many cakes and cupcakes with frosting on them which got, as Wilson said, “disturbed” in the fall.
“They’re still useable, they just weren’t as pretty as they were before,” Wilson said.
The goods had been loaded into boxes and placed on the palette. Some boxes remained close through the fall, but others busted open, leaving loose bags of dinner rolls or packages of cupcakes. Wilson had the volunteers help him put most of the loose packages in the backseat of his truck’s cab.
Wilson doubted the food would have survived if he had gotten onto the interstate.
“Had I been a quarter-mile further, I would’ve been on the interstate. That would have been some horror,” Wilson said. “Nobody’s going to stop, they’re going to run right over the boxes.”
To thank the strangers for their assistance, Wilson and Henderson offered each some of the food they helped to preserve.
They got the truck reloaded and went on their way.
But their troubles weren’t over yet.
Traveling on US-50 west of Peabody, Wilson passed by semi trucks. The gust of air caused by the passing semis jostled the loose boxes in such a way that nearly caused a repeat disaster.
“One of the box lids, the flap come out on it, and out jumped two two-foot long loaves of French bread,” he said. “It was like they were alive. They stuck their heads out. I said ‘Those things are gonna come out of there, I better stop.’”
Wilson again stopped and secured the food. Eventually he turned onto a different road with less traffic so he could drive slower. They ended up making it to the food bank right about the time at which help was supposed to arrive to unload the truck.
“We drove into Marion at about 3:05 p.m.,” Wilson said. “All things considered, we were on time. I’m just darn glad that we didn’t waste a bunch of that food.”