LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Dave Wolkow’s life’s work revolves around driving. For 25 years, he drove a semi-truck for a living. Now, he spends more rewarding days on the road for a different mission.
What You Need To Know
- Dave Wolkow founded Truckers for the Homeless in 2012 after seeing a man who needed help holding a sign at an exit ramp as he was driving a semi
- Wolkow’s ministry enlists truck drivers all over the country to give bags filled with Bibles, food, water, socks and other necessities to people in need who they see while out on the road
- Wolkow knows firsthand what it’s like to experience homelessness
- The trucker also hopes to raise enough to purchase a portable shower for people experiencing homelessness in Kentucky
As a truck driver, Wolkow drove by countless people experiencing homelessness along highways all across the U.S. However, one many he saw while pulling into a truck stop in New Mexico ten years ago changed everything.
“There’s a man on the ramp. He had a sign. It said, ‘I know I’m dirty. I know I’m homeless, but I’m still hungry,’” Wolkow recalled.
Wolkow bought the man a couple of hotdogs and a bottled water, and handed them to him with a gospel tract. From there on out, he began his mission to help as many people experiencing homelessness as he could.
In the ten years since, he’s fed thousands more. He founded the nonprofit Truckers for the Homeless, enlisting fellow drivers and donations from others to also help feed people they see along the way.
“We may not be able to reach them all, but that doesn’t stop us from trying,” Wolkow said.
In Louisville, Wolkow regularly picks up burgers and chicken sandwiches from McDonald’s and passes them out with bottled water and care bags that have Bibles, socks, nonperishable foods and other needed supplies inside.
Wolkow also attempts to talk with each person he’s helping, learning about their lives and praying for them along the way.
“People have been so used to being homeless, and addicts are so used to being demoralized and shunned,” Wolkow said, explaining that he hopes his genuine interaction with people will make an impact.
Wolkow is more familiar with their situation than many of the people he helps will ever know.
Explaining how he fell into homelessness in the early 2000s, Wolkow said, “I was a drug addict, and I left my wife because I didn’t have enough money to do my drugs, and I was living in a friend’s back porch over by Churchill Downs, because he didn’t have any room in his house for me to stay.”
Wolkow struggled for years until he was finally caught with marijuana and meth in his semi. Because he was traveling in a commercial truck over multiple state lines, he said he was facing 20 years in prison for all five states he drove in—totaling a 100 year sentence.
Wolkow explained that he tried to take his life in his jail cell.
“I laid there on the floor with a sheet around my throat, and I was crying because I didn’t want to die, but I didn’t want to live, and I didn’t want to take down my wife and I said, so I looked up at the ceiling, and I said, ‘You know, I don’t even know if you’re real, but I’m 42 years old, and if there’s something you want me to do in my life, I think now would be a good time to show up,’” Wolkow recalled.
After that, Wolkow said he read the Bible each day he was in solitary confinement, until he was released due to jail overcrowding six months later.
Now, his Bible rides with him on his dashboard anywhere he travels. So do the memories of his wife, Darlene, who took him back after everything that happened.
Darlene was a driving force in making Truckers for the Homeless successful.
“Darlene would always call me and say, ‘How many bags you got left?’ And I said, ‘You know, one or two,’ and she said, ‘Don’t come home… don’t bring any bags home, there’s enough homeless out there you shouldn’t come home with anything.’”
When Darlene’s health began declining because of Alzheimer’s a couple of years ago, Wolkow traded in his 18-wheeler for a desk job back home in Kentucky. The couple continued to help people together throughout the Bluegrass until Darlene died in March, on Wolkow’s birthday.
Just talking about Darlene still brings Wolkow to tears. Wiping the tears from his eyes, Wolkow chuckled, “She’s up there with her mom and dad and sister and brother, thinking, ‘Boy, look at him. He’s a mess! He really did love me!’”
Wolkow added, “I won’t give up because of her.”
As he continues the work his wife loved, handing out meals and encouragement, Wolkow hopes to inspire more people to join him. He said with the state of the economy, he’s lost a lot of financial support and most of the volunteer drivers who would deliver his bags to people.
“Which makes it down to coming out of my pocket again,” he explained, adding, “That’s okay.”
Wolkow said with the work he’s doing, “I get blessed more than the homeless people that we feed.”
Meanwhile, Wolkow is also fundraising to buy a portable shower for people experiencing homelessness to use across the state. The effort is called “Showers of Hope.” In talking with a lot of the people he helps, he said a shower is a simple luxury they don’t get often.