Terrill Haigler, more widely known as Ya Fav Trashman, the Instagram account he created to plead for hazard pay, masks, and gloves for sanitation workers amid the coronavirus pandemic, continued his generosity Saturday as his mother fought for her life.
Haigler hosted a food drive for all frontline workers in Philadelphia — from the Streets Department and SEPTA, to the city’s many hospitals and emergency responders. The collection took place in the parking lot of the church he attends, the Voice of Praise Worldwide Ministries, on the 3500 block of Old York Road in the Logan section.
“The frontline workers sacrifice a lot to go to work every day, and I just wanted them to have one less thing to worry about,” Haigler said Saturday afternoon even as he bore his own worries.
Around 4 a.m., his mother, Jeanette, suffered a severe asthma attack. By the time the 53-year-old home health-care worker reached Temple University Hospital, she was in cardiac arrest.
Haigler, the father of three children, ages 9, 8, and 4, was at the hospital from about 5 to 10 a.m., when he left to pick up food for the drive.
″I knew my mom would have wanted me to be here and make sure everything went perfect," said Haigler, who got updates from the hospital on his mother’s condition throughout the event.
Of the frontline workers he came to help, he said: “Some are single parents taking care of two or three children. Can you imagine working in a hospital or on a sanitation truck 12 hours a day and then going home and having to take three children to the supermarket?”
On Tuesday, SEPTA general manager Leslie Richards notified employees that an eighth SEPTA worker, Mbassa Bessike, a bus operator for six years, had died of complications from the coronavirus.
There have been a total of 365 confirmed transit authority employee COVID-19 cases, though nearly 290 who had been sickened have returned to work.
Haigler, 30 and a resident of North Philadelphia, said he got the idea for the food drive for frontline workers because his church holds them for the community every Wednesday. A couple of dozen volunteers were there as early as 8 a.m. Saturday to put boxes and bags of food on tables. Haigler got there around 1 p.m.
Tears welling in his eyes shortly after he arrived, he said he was torn about leaving his mother, who had been looking forward to taking part in the food drive. For a minute, Haigler’s shoulders buckled as he struggled to compose himself, pausing from unloading a huge U-Haul truck bearing 700 boxes of food.
One of the drivers, a fellow sanitation worker who did not want to give his name, called Haigler “a good guy.” He said the sanitation workers appreciate all their colleague has done to focus attention on the need to be safe while working for the city during the pandemic.
Pastor Alice Martin, who founded Voices of Praise, said that she wasn’t surprised at how diligent Haigler has been about helping others.
“He has an unselfish nature about him and the values and foundations that his mother has demonstrated,” Martin said.
Haigler also credited his mother’s giving ways as an influence.
“I saw her giving to others all the time," he said. “If someone was hungry, she would give them money. She would open her house to friends or family who needed a place to stay.”
Haigler said the church had enough food to feed 1,500 families on Saturday.
Two giveaway areas were set up: One, on the sidewalk in front of the church, provided food to people from the community, who could walk up. The frontline workers were able to drive through the parking lot to a different group of tables. They had to show a work identification card.
After 3 p.m., people from the community were also able to go through the drive-through pickup area, where more kinds of food items were available.
Troy Barrett, 51, who was wearing a Temple University Hospital sweatshirt and showed an ID card that said he works cleaning up the emergency room, said he was grateful for the donation.
“I came here because I am helping my mother and grandmother out,” he said.
Robert Ware, 59, a sanitation worker, also said he was getting food to help family members who are out of work.
Haigler has been employed by the city since last December.
When the coronavirus pandemic hit, he said his coworkers were worried about the danger of catching the virus without enough masks and other safety measures.
In June, about 100 sanitation workers protested outside City Hall, demanding hazard pay and ample supplies of personal protective equipment. The sanitation workers are members of the AFSCME District Council 33, Local 427.
Since Haigler launched his @yafavtrashman Instagram account, he has not only been interviewed by local media, but by national outlets, including on ABC’s World News Tonight With David Muir.
He has used social media to try to explain to residents why the city has experienced trash pickup delays, and he’s raised more than $32,000 to buy additional PPE and cleaning supplies for sanitation colleagues.
Pennsylvania reported its highest number of confirmed coronavirus infections in six months Saturday amid increased testing. The Department of Health said that an additional 1,742 people had tested positive for the virus, the highest case count since the 1,751 recorded April 10.
Haigler said he hopes to have another food drive for city workers who cannot work from home during the pandemic. On Saturday, his goal was to make them feel appreciated, he said.
"I just wanted all the frontline workers to feel loved, to feel thought about, and actually make them essential,” Haigler said.