The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Drivers were stuck on I-95 when one saw a bakery truck. Soon, stranded motorists were breaking bread together.

Casey Holihan, 23, with her husband, John Noe, 24, stuck in their car on Interstate 95 in Virginia on Tuesday. After spotting a Schmidt Baking Company truck, they decided to call the bakery to see if it would offer up bread products to hungry motorists. (Casey Holihan)
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Casey Holihan and her husband, John Noe, had been stranded on Interstate 95 in Virginia for about 16 hours when they got an idea.

The couple spotted a Schmidt Baking Company truck just a few cars ahead of them about 9 a.m. Tuesday. At that point, they estimated, it had been approximately 37 hours since they had last eaten.

“We were starving,” said Holihan, 23, who at the time was at a standstill near Quantico. “People around us were very much struggling as well. We could hear kids crying.”

They decided to call Schmidt Baking Company in Baltimore in the hope that maybe it would be willing to offer whatever products were on the truck to hungry travelers. The couple knew it was a long shot, but they — and countless other people, some of whom were trapped on I-95 for close to 24 hours after snow and ice triggered an overnight shutdown — were desperate for food.

Capital Weather Gang’s Jason Samenow talks about what caused Monday’s disruptive snowstorm across the D.C. region and provides a forecast for Thursday. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

They reached the customer service line and left their phone number with a representative.

“I didn’t think it would actually work,” Holihan said.

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What happened next stunned her: Just 20 minutes later, Chuck Paterakis, one of the owners of H&S Bakery, which operates Schmidt Baking Company, called the couple directly.

He advised them to go to the truck, then instructed the driver to offer up two products — one package of rolls and one loaf of bread — to any person who wanted them.

“It was an easy decision,” Paterakis said. If he had been stuck out there on the road with no food, he added, “I would want someone to offer their products.”

The couple was traveling south on I-95, heading from their home in Ellicott City, Md., to visit Noe’s family in Newport, N.C.

Along with the truck driver, Ron Hill, Holihan and Noe started grabbing loaves of bread off the truck and distributing them to the surrounding vehicles. Others swiftly joined their efforts.

“We started going door to door and we got to help a lot of people,” Holihan said.

For about an hour, they walked gingerly along the ice-slicked roads and handed out about 300 packages of bread.

“Some people said this was a saving grace for them,” Holihan said.

An Uber driver and his passenger were stuck on I-95 for hours. He went out of his way to make sure she got home.

She heard stories from families with young children who were stuck with no food for hours on end. Although spending an entire night on a highway was scary and stressful for everyone, by morning, “we developed a tiny little community that won’t be quickly forgotten,” she added.

To them, Paterakis’s generous gesture was the most memorable part of an otherwise awful experience.

“He didn’t have to help us. He could have made a profit off that bread,” Holihan said. “It was really heartwarming.”

As a family-run bakery with an 80-year history, “we’re very humbled and grateful that we could help,” said Paterakis, adding that his parents opened their first bakery in 1943 in Baltimore. Now, he and his three brothers own the company.

Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020, he added, the company has donated close to 3 million loaves of bread to people in need in the Baltimore-Washington area.

“My father and mother taught us how to work hard and give back to the community,” he said. “My parents would be very proud.”

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Holihan said she was grateful both for the spontaneous community they encountered and the bread. The couple’s road trip was supposed to take just over five hours, but on Tuesday evening, they had already been on the road for 33 hours and still had about two more hours until they reached Newport.

Although it was a seemingly endless, mostly miserable road trip, connecting with others who were also stranded and bringing them sliced bread from the back of a truck were silver linings.

“Everyone was so thankful,” Holihan said.

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