Ben Drake loves trucks, especially those from Martin’s Famous Pastry Shoppe, the Chambersburg-based manufacturer of potato bread products. So to say he was happy to see a Martin’s tractor-trailer and van roll into his Red Hill neighborhood Thursday was an understatement.
“He was ecstatic,” said his mom, Suzie Drake. “It was a dream come true for him.”
But it’s how the Martin’s entourage got to Stonehaven Drive that proves that small companies can have big heart.
Last week, 14-year-old Ben Drake, who has autism, emailed the director of transportation for Martin’s. Using his dad Kerry's email account, Ben told the director his name and that he was going to be working on two different trucks, along with their numbers, that day. The problem was, Martin’s had never heard of Ben. And they didn’t have any information on a work order for those trucks.
“Apparently Ben was job hunting,” said his mom, laughing. “I was shocked. We always knew he was great with computers but we didn’t have any idea he knew how to email.”
So when the Drake family received a phone call from Martin’s vehicle maintenance manager Dan Browell about the email, they told him all about Ben, his affinity for Martin’s and his dream to someday drive one of their trucks.
Martin’s, at first, decided they wanted to send a Winn-Ross replica of one of their tractor-trailers to Ben. But after subsequent conversations with the Drakes, they decided to do something a little more special.
“We felt that a personal visit to one of our raving fans needed to happen,” said Brian Ramer, Martin’s director of transportation. “At Martin’s we want to be more than just a good product on the shelf, we want to be a part of our communities.”
So the company sent four representatives to Ben’s home last Thursday morning in a brand new company van and tractor-trailer. The tractor-trailer driver, sounding his horn down to the Drake house, pulled up on Stonehaven Drive much to the delight of Ben, his parents, family and friends.
More than two dozen people lined the streets to take in the event.
Ben could be seen jumping up and down and clapping his hands in a display of unadulterated happiness.
“He was in heaven,” Suzie Drake said. “This is a story about the power of caring and never saying never. I hope it shines some light on children with autism. They, like everyone, have hopes and dreams. As a parent of an autistic child you are told they are never going to do this and they are never going to do that. Never say never.”
In front of his home, Ben was given the chance of a lifetime to “work” for Martin’s. Reps let him climb into the cab of the tractor-trailer and ride around the block. He operated the forklift on the back of the trailer and transferred two pallets of Martin’s products from the back of the van into the trailer.
He also got to hand out complimentary Martin’s rolls to everyone on his block.
“I had so much excitement for Ben,” said family friend Theresa Devine-Jurgelewicz. “Very few companies go out of their way to do nice things. Martin’s could have done nothing after their first phone call...but something told them that this was special. Ben had such a great time.”
Martin’s reps, who shed a tear or two during the event, said they were happy to have been able to make his day.
“We have established a culture that we base our everyday business on,” explained Ramer. “We want to be an employer of choice, a supplier/provider of choice, an investment of choice and a God-honoring company. Ben is a special gift from God, and we have been blessed in meeting him and by his life.”
The outpouring of support on the company’s Facebook page for what they did for the Drake family was also overwhelming. More than a hundred comments were posted applauding their efforts.
“In all honesty, we were just trying to do something nice for a great kid. We didn’t know that it would touch so many people but we’re both humbled and thrilled that we were able to brighten the day of one of our biggest fans: Ben,” said Julie Martin, social media manager and third-generation employee.
“We are honored to have been part of making a special memory.”
Suzie Drake said while the family, including Ben’s brother, Logan, have seen a great deal of support from the Upper Perkiomen Valley community and the school district, it was refreshing to see it from a business.
“Martin’s is an amazing company. They displayed humanity and are truly a class act. The whole experience was unbelievable,” Suzie said.
And the Drake family isn’t likely to forget the events of last week anytime soon. Ben, you see, is also a calendar savant. As someone with an ability to recall the smallest of details of any given day, his mom said he will be talking about it for a long time
“We’ll remember this day forever,” said Suzie Drake. “We’ll be hearing about January 16, 2014 for a long time to come.”