Dylan Bunch, an eight-year-old boy from Steelville, got to be an honorary Walmart truck driver for the day and enjoyed a shopping spree on Saturday as part of the Walmart Heart Program, which was created and organized by the people who drive Walmart’s fleet of trucks. The Cuba Walmart store, community members, and local law enforcement and emergency responders also came out to support the event and Dylan’s courageous journey as a little boy growing up after terrible injuries sustained in a lawnmower accident about five and half years ago.
The day began at the Steelville Community Park where the special Walmart Heart truck, along with three other Walmart trucks and their drivers gathered with first responders from the Crawford County Sheriff’s Department and Steelville Fire, Ambulance and Police departments to present Dylan with his official truck driver shirt—one exactly like the official Walmart drivers’ shirt, but in Dylan’s size and with his name embroidered on the front—and get him into the special program truck for the drive to Cuba.
The convoy that escorted the trucks created a sort of parade for Dylan from Steelville to Cuba, with lights flashing and other drivers along the roadway pulling to the side to recognize the event.
In front of the Cuba Walmart, a crowd had gathered, several holding signs to welcome Dylan. Inside, an open space was created and tables set up with cake and ice cream to celebrate the event. Dylan and three of his friends were given seats of honor at the table and the presentations began.
In addition to the shirt he had received in Steelville, the Walmart truck drivers gave him a certificate, a small toy version of the truck he had ridden in, and a large Walmart blanket. The Cuba Police Department gave him a gift card; Cuba Mayor Ray Mortimeyer gave him a key to the city; he was made an honorary member of the Cuba Chamber of Commerce; a representative of the Crawford County Fair Board gave him (and his family) four tickets to the 2013 fair; the Crawford County Sheriff’s Department provided another gift card, and the Cuba Walmart store gave Dylan an iPad and accessories.
Dylan’s mother, Susan, offered an emotional thanks to the crowd gathered in support of her son, expressing her gratitude for all the local community has done for the family since the accident. Dylan himself smiled and laughed with his friends, clearly excited, but also somewhat overwhelmed by all the attention.
After the cake and ice cream was consumed, the Walmart truck drivers grabbed a shopping cart, and Dylan led the way to his favorite toys: Skylanders (characters used to play a Wii video game). He picked out a couple of those and then headed to the Lego aisle, picked out a set there, and moved on in his search for goodies.
Ken Nelson, a Walmart truck driver who lives in Owensville, and the organizer for this event, explained the program had started in Texas with a six-year-old boy named Jack who had been given just 85 days to live. Doctors needed him to stay awake for a 24-hour period in order to do some tests, and as the Jack’s foster mother thought about trying to keep him awake that long, she decided, “I’ll take him to Walmart.”
Her extended stay in the store with the boy caught the attention of the manager, and once he realized why they were there, he got involved. He was playing ball in the receiving area with the little guy when a Walmart truck driver arrived, stopped what he was doing—immediately took his break—and got involved. Nelson got a bit choked up as he told the crowd in Cuba’s Walmart, “Jack is now 22 years old.”
There are currently 300 Walmart drivers nationwide who participate in Heart Program events, including five out of the St. James Distribution Center. Drivers are not paid by Walmart for their participation—they do it on their own time. “But we are paid greatly by the joy we get from the kids,” Nelson said. The drivers also do their own fundraising to support the shopping spree portion of the events. The Walmart corporate office in Bentonville provides the special trailer that features pictures of children honored through the program.
Local Walmart stores determine their level of involvement in the program. Nelson noted that the Cuba store had gone all out in their support for Dylan’s event and was also impressed with the local community participation.
Children are chosen for these events in a variety of ways. Dylan was nominated by a woman from Vienna whose daughter had been able to participate in one. But Nelson added, “Sometimes the good Lord just puts a child in front of you,” and told of how he personally has had two children literally walk in front of him at stores and then they had the opportunity to honor them.