Mar. 14—SMYRNA — On March 13, 2020, when Cobb County School District bus driver Jimi Richards turned 65, he walked away from his job. It wasn't because he had finally hit retirement age.
"I couldn't take the chance," he said Saturday, exactly one year later. The day Richards turned 65, then-President Donald Trump declared a national state of emergency as the novel coronavirus began its rapid spread through the United States.
Since then, between him and his wife, 11 of Richards' family members have died of COVID-19.
So he didn't think twice about helping his fellow drivers still on the road when he heard district parent Mindy Seger was organizing a bus driver appreciation giveaway at the C. Freeman Poole Senior Center in Smyrna.
"She did all the groundwork, I just tried to get the word out to drivers," he said.
The 300+ yellow bags piled in front of the senior center Saturday had face shields, a box of adult-size masks, a box of child-size masks, KN-95 masks, a roll of paper towels and a bottle of window cleaner, Seger said. Paid for by donations, the contents in the bags would help drivers stay safe while on the job. In addition to Richards, Seger's friends and family and district Board of Education members Charisse Davis and Leroy Tre' Hutchins came to help with distribution.
It was the second bus driver appreciation giveaway Seger has organized. For the first, in February, she had gathered enough supplies for about 100 bags. More than 200 bus drivers showed up.
Gary Nathan was one of those who tried and failed in February to get a bag of his own. He has been driving Cobb County School District buses for three years.
"We've been purchasing our own because they haven't been given to us," he said. He guessed he had spent $50 of his own money on personal protective equipment in the last year, a number that would have been higher had parents on his route not occasionally given him some.
Seger decided she wouldn't let anyone go home empty-handed during Saturday's event and solicited enough donations to prepare more than 300 bags.
An hour in, it seemed as though that may have been overkill — few had come. Nathan worried aloud that drivers may have heard about what happened in February and decided to stay home.
Soon, however, several cars came, each hauling away dozens of bags they would distribute among others in their "cluster" — the groups of drivers organized by school.
Theresa Davenport was one of them.
"It means a lot," Davenport said when asked about the event. A couple feet away, volunteers loaded her car. "A lot of times, the drivers aren't recognized. It's always the teachers that they (talk) about, but I feel like, before the teachers can do their jobs, we have to get the kids to them.
"So this is great," she continued, "that they thought of us to do this."