Breaking bread in a blizzard | 2022-01-07

BALTIMORE — On Jan. 4, the donation of several hundred loaves of bread to motorists stranded on an icy highway brought national media attention to H&S Bakery. Chuck Paterakis, principal owner and senior vice president of transportation and logistics for the Baltimore-based company, said he’s been interviewed more than 30 times, including by outlets including NBC Nightly News, CNN and Fox & Friends.

The heroes of the blizzard story were the bakery, a veteran truck driver, and a young married couple in their early twenties.

Traffic was halted on Interstate 95 in Virginia overnight Jan. 3 due to a snowstorm – The Baltimore Sun reported the line of vehicles stretched 48 miles as 12 inches of snow finally covered the terrain. The situation remained the same on the morning of January 4. Casey Holihan and her husband, John Noe, two of the stranded motorists, were traveling to Newport, North Carolina. They wanted to see Mr. Noe’s family before Mr. Noe, who is in the army, leaves for Germany for a four-year stay.

The couple hadn’t eaten for hours.

“Tuesday morning (January 4) they woke up hopeless,” Mr Paterakis said.

Then the couple spotted a truck belonging to Schmidt Baking Co., which is owned by H&S Bakery. Ms Holihan said her husband had joked that it would be nice to eat a loaf of bread.

“On a whim, I called them,” she said.

She called Schmidt Baking Co. customer service and asked if stranded motorists could get bread from the truck. The customer service manager contacted Mr. Paterakis, who did not hesitate to approve the request. He said it aligned with the company’s mission statement to create meaningful change in the community.

“In the family business, you don’t have to sit down and ask 100 people or write a letter or go through a lot of paperwork,” he said. “When my family, my siblings see something that is needed, especially for charity, we do the right thing on the spot. It has made a huge difference for me to call Casey back in 20 minutes instead of calling her back six hours later.

He asked Ms. Holihan, phone in hand, to approach the truck and knock on the door.

Ron Hill, owner and operator of the truck, has been transporting Schmidt Baking Co. products for 14 years. He expected to drop off his load of 8,000 units of buns in Norfolk, Va., on the afternoon of Jan. 3 and have dinner at home that evening. Instead, he found himself in barely moving traffic. Then his truck didn’t move an inch between 8:30 p.m. on January 3 and 2 p.m. on January 4. Mr Hill said he was crying and praying when Ms Holihan knocked on the truck door.

“I’m a prayer warrior, and it was a prayer when it came,” he said.

Mr. Hill listened on the phone as Mr. Paterakis told him to open the back door of the truck and distribute the bread.

“He told me to be careful when I handed out the bread,” Mr Hill said of Mr Paterakis. “He said, ‘Be careful and don’t let them push you around.'”

The breaking of the bread took place peacefully. The married couple and other volunteers marched along the highway handing out loaves of bread to motorists in their vehicles. Ms. Holihan and Mr. Noe ended up stranded for about 9 p.m., but at least they had something to eat: a loaf of Old Tyme potato rolls and a loaf of Old Tyme wheat bread.

“These potato rolls were amazing,” Ms. Holihan said.

Mr. Hill returned home on the morning of January 5.

Mr Paterakis said that over the past two years, H&S Bakery has donated 2.5 million loaves of bread since the onset of COVID-19.

“Throughout this time we had no visibility of what happened the other day,” he said.

Ms. Holihan played a role. After posting photos on Facebook, the event went viral. Mr Paterakis said the publicity of the story lifted the spirits of his family, H&S Bakery employees and the bakery business’s customers and suppliers.

“People from overseas are calling us, texting us and emailing us, telling us how great this story is,” Paterakis said. “The bakery was part of the story. It was more like Casey and John. They are the heroes. They are the ones who thought of this idea.