Vandalia Bus Lines gathers donations for tornado-ravaged town

A few months ago, driver Cindy Altenbaumer took a group of high school students to the Future Farmers of America conference in Indianapolis. 

The students’ friendliness and kindness made it a memorable trip for her. So when she learned that their community of Dresden, Tennessee, was nearly demolished by the barrage of tornadoes that tore through six states, killing at least 74 people in Kentucky, she wanted to do something to help.

Vandalia Bus Lines employees unload donations for the tornado-ravaged community of Dresden, Tennessee.

When she approached Vandalia Bus Lines about assisting the community, co-owner Dennis Streif was all in. Streif made a monetary donation and offered the use of a motorcoach to deliver whatever could be collected. Employees and the community of Caseyville, on the outskirts of St. Louis, have stepped up to help with donations as well.

Helping ‘some amazing people’

Photos show the town of Dresden, Tennessee before and after a Dec. 10 tornado.

“Dresden is home to some amazing people, some of whom we have had the pleasure of doing business with,” Altenbaumer wrote in a message on the company’s Facebook page. “We would like to fill one of our buses with supplies much needed for this town to overcome this devastating situation.”

The list of items being collected include bottled water, diapers and wipes, baby formula, hygiene items, socks, underwear, coats, gift cards, batteries and flashlights. 

As word about the collection got out, other groups began making cash donations, from the Elks Club to a pipefitters and plumbers union. Donations have come in from Altenbaumer’s hometown of Centralia and the nearby Illinois community of Salem.

The photos of the devastation and the stories she has heard have left Altenbaumer in tears. “I realized these kids aren’t going to have Christmas,” she said. “So many families have lost everything.”

Altenbaumer’s coworker Mark Spravale volunteered to make the delivery of all collected items and monetary donations on Dec. 22.

Driving students a highlight of her job

Being tasked with this donation drive means a lot to Altenbaumer, who worked full-time for Vandalia for about a year. Before that, she worked as a part-time coach driver on the weekends and during the summer during her 42-year career as a school bus driver. 

“When I retired, I went full-time driving motorcoach and absolutely love it,” Altenbaumer said. 

Driver Cindy Altenbaumer with Future Farmers of America students from Dresden High School.

Being able to transport students as she did with the group from Dresden is one of the aspects of her work that makes it so rewarding. 

The trip with Dresden students is what Altenbaumer describes as a “rescue trip,” because without Vandalia Bus Lines stepping in, it likely wouldn’t have happened. The club adviser found out a few days before the trip that the company he originally booked had canceled without letting them know. 

“They were cheering because I showed up,” Altenbaumer said. “They were so happy that somebody had come to take them to the convention. They were the most awesome group. We had a blast.” 


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