Sometimes, it just takes one man to change the way an entire community views an industry.
And when it comes to the story of Charlie Brown – a Waste Connections truck driver in Knoxville – that is certainly the case.
I have to admit that choosing the right story to convey the impact Charlie has had was difficult, because there are just so many. Countless families have been influenced by his thoughtfulness. He is adored by nearly everyone on his routes.
But one story stands out to me among the rest. And it’s one that Kristen Hancock struggles to tell without crying.
“The whole time my son was in the hospital, we were just trying to take care of our kids and figure things out. I mean, there were many days when we didn’t even take our trash can down to the road because it just wasn’t even a thought on our minds,” she told me, through tears. “But Charlie would literally walk up our driveway – and we live on a steep hill, and it’s a long driveway – every week and he would get our trash can. He would bring it down himself and empty it, and haul it back up there.”
Kristen’s son, Cameron, was a toddler when he came down with a mystery illness that impacted everything from his breathing to his ability to keep food down. He was in and out of intensive care for months – and the only thing his parents never had to worry about was their trash service.
“Every time I went home from the hospital to grab a shower or something, I would think to myself, ‘Gosh, that is so nice. He came and got our trash,’” Kristen recalled.
But for Charlie, delivering random acts of kindness is nothing out of the ordinary.
“When I first started serving the Hancocks’ house, I noticed that sometimes their can wasn’t down by the road like normal. At that time, they were also doing some home renovations, so I just wanted to do my part to try to help them because I know what it’s like when you’re trying to do renovations on your home,” he said. “So I would go get the can and then take it back after I dumped it. I had no idea Cam was sick.”
Once Cameron was well enough to come back home, both he and Kristen wanted to do something for their garbage truck driver to thank him. So Kristen decided to send an email to the City of Knoxville to express her family’s gratitude, and Cameron decided to color Charlie a picture of his favorite cartoon character.
“I’d been waiting for the day when I could personally thank him. And I knew he’d had a meeting at Waste Connections that morning, and that they were going to recognize him for the email I’d sent the City,” Kristen explained. “But this particular day, when Charlie pulled up, little Cameron just went running out the door! He could not wait to run down that driveway!”
This was just a couple of years ago, so Cameron was three years old at the time. And he desperately wanted Mr. Charlie to have the picture he’d colored for him.
“The first time he came outside, he just ran up and dove into my arms! I asked him where his mother was, and he just looked in the cab and said he wanted to go in there, so I said ‘Come on,’ and helped him up into the cab,” Charlie smiled as he thought back to that day. “I showed him how everything on the truck worked, and he had a fit. He just loved it.”
Since then, the Browns’ and the Hancocks’ friendship continued to grow, as has Charlie’s relationship with so many individuals in the community.
And as word about the story spread, the managers at Waste Connections of Tennessee decided to have his truck wrapped with a picture that Kristen had designed and created.
It came as a surprise to Charlie.
“I was excited when they told me they’d wrapped my truck, but I was mostly excited for Cam. He was so young, and he loved it,” Charlie said. “I got to go to his school and he got to show it off. That’s such a good feeling, being part of something like that for a kid.”
For Waste Connections, and for the waste and recycling industry as a whole, people like Charlie are invaluable. They completely humanize an otherwise overlooked line of work.
“I don’t like using the term ‘garbage man’ anymore. To me, it’s just so personal now – I could say so easily that someone was a ‘garbage man’ before, but now I can’t,” explained Kristen. “They’re people, and they all mean something to their community. And for one man to personalize an entire industry like that is amazing.”
One man, in one town, driving one truck and showing a little compassion along the way – those stories and those moments make all the difference in the world.
If you would like to thank your local waste collector, one good way to do so is by leaving a positive review on Google – don’t hesitate to let them know how much you appreciate all they do!
STORIES FROM THE FIELD
Location: KNOXVILLE, TN, USA