By ALFREDO ALVARADO
City workers are familiar with employees who anxiously wait for that special date when they’ll retire. They count the days left and announce it to anyone who will listen and have the date circled on their calendar. Bill Clark has been on the job since 1959, turned 76 on Feb. 10 but doesn’t mention retirement. For almost six decades he’s worked as a Loader and Handler for the Dept. of Education, delivering meals and kitchen supplies all over the city to make sure hungry school children are feed.
Clark leaves his Bronx apartment every morning before dawn when it’s pitch black for the train ride to the industrial section of Long Island City in Queens to DOE headquarters. He joins a crew of 20 Loaders and Handlers to start loading the trucks at 6 a.m. then hit the road to make their deliveries. Given his seniority, the 76-year-old Clark could stay in a nice warm office sipping coffee coordinating assignments for his coworkers, but that doesn’t cross his mind.
The Local 372 member and native New Yorker didn’t plan on staying on the job more than six months, let alone six decades. His mother worked as a cook in what was known then as the Central Kitchen and encouraged him to apply for the job. “Those were the days when we delivered the bread on our backs, with the pots of soup,” recalled Clark. Having his mother in the kitchen might have enticed him to stick around. “She made great peanut butter and jelly sandwiches,” he said, with a laugh.
The days of hauling bread on his back are long gone. There is only one Loader and Handler per truck instead of two, due to cutbacks during the Bloomberg administration. Clark gets help from a union driver if he needs it. “They’re always ready to lend a hand,” he said. Nowadays he delivers kitchen supplies instead of food. The ban on Styrofoam means schools use paper cups and plates, which are heavier. Despite decades of loading and unloading supplies, climbing stairs and driving throughout the city in all kinds of weather, Clark has managed to escape injury. “I’ve never even worn one of those belts, the ones they use for back support,” he said.
During the Christmas holiday, Clark made a delivery to union headquarters in Manhattan and ran into Executive Director Henry Garrido, who was a member of Local 372. Garrido was leading a staff meeting of 200 employees when he stopped to introduce Clark and acknowledged him for his years of service. Clark was greeted by the crowd with a resounding standing ovation. He thanked Garrido and gracefully excused himself.
Clark’s truck driver was waiting for him in the lobby with two hand carts piled high with boxes. Clark slipped his gloves back on and headed straight to the lobby. It was time for him to get back to work.