Winona Daily News Campus Connection
MSC Southeast truck driving instructor Tom Gierok's holiday spirit goes the extra mile
December 5, 2021
He may not have a "belly like a bowl full of jelly" -- in fact, he is built more like a whippet -- but truck driving instructor Tom Gierok might be called the Santa Claus of Minnesota State College Southeast.
Tom has volunteered his truck-driving skills for countless holiday efforts over the years, especially helping Winona Area Toys for Kids and Operation Christmas Child.
"We have an old trailer on campus that we use for storing the empty Toys for Kids barrels. Before Christmas, the barrels are distributed around town so people can donate toys," explained Tom. "I take the trailer over to Walmart where it will get loaded with all the full barrels, and then we bring it back to MSC Southeast."
The toys are then sorted by Toys for Kids volunteers, who will host their annual "Toy Store" event at MSC Southeast's Tandeski Center on Dec. 11. (For more information, see www.winonaareatoysforkids.com.)
Tom noted that Toys for Kids benefits hundreds of people in the Winona community. "I've been driving the truck for them for 25 or 30 years," he said. "When I get asked to do something, the word 'no' doesn't come into play."
In the Winona area, shoeboxes are collected at Pleasant Valley Church. Tom drops off a trailer on a Friday and church volunteers load it up over the weekend.
"On Monday morning, we pick up the trailer and drive it to La Crosse," Tom said. "Our students offload the packages from our trailer to the next one, which will take the gift boxes onward to Chicago for international delivery."
Tom Gierok and welding instructor Casey Mann are good friends and love taking a college truck out in parades throughout the region during the summer. Sometimes they tow the MSC Southeast branded trailer, other times they tow the college's mobile welding trailer.
This year they participated in Goodview's 20th Annual Holiday Parade on December 4, driving a lighted flatbed truck on the parade route.
Tom sees showing up for parades as a way to promote trucking driving education and interest in the trucking industry as a whole. "I'm a big advocate -- you've got to get out into the community. I love the smiles when people see a truck."
This fall, Casey Mann's welding students fabricated a 16-foot-tall holiday tree for display in downtown Winona. After it was painted green by auto body students, the truck driving department loaded the structure -- in 3 pieces -- onto a flatbed trailer for delivery in time for the "Light Up Downtown" ceremony on November 18.
"The tree lighting was magical!" MSC Southeast President Marsha Danielson said. "Seeing the faces of the families that gathered to see the star put into place and the tree lit made the efforts of our students, faculty and staff worthwhile."
This time of year, gift-giving and holiday feasts are on everyone's mind, but empty shelves in the stores are causing a lot of anxiety for Santa's helpers. Supply chain issues have been called the "Nightmare Before Christmas" of 2021.
Tom Gierok has a solution: recruiting and educating more professional truck drivers. Minnesota State College Southeast's program is already full for January, but there is still room in the class that will start in March 2022.
Maybe reindeer can land on housetops, but Tom points out that, "Until we start seeing planes and barges landing on the roof of a store, you're gonna need these truck drivers!"