“This feels like Christmas!” says the woman at the front of the line as she tucks eggs, milk, large orange carrots, and a loaf of whole wheat bread into her sweatshirt. It’s Friday in Turlock, California, grocery day for those who are served by the United Samaritan Foundation’s fleet of Daily Bread Mobile Food Trucks. Anyone can get lunch Monday-Friday at the fleet of four’s 42 stops in nine different nearby towns, and grocery bag Fridays help families make it through the weekend. If you’re low on the funds, transportation can be hard to pay for and difficult to maneuver. If you’re hungry, making it into town for a meal at your standard soup kitchen can become an all-day affair. Food trucks meet the hungry on their turf.
The food truck fleet began with a group of Christians at a Turlock church back in 1992 before food trucks were cool. They purchased a taco truck and made 50 sandwiches for their very first route. Fifty sandwiches turned out to be an underestimate, and they went to the grocery store mid-route for more supplies. By route’s end they had served over 250 sandwiches. Obviously the need was greater than citizens imagined.
Misty and Mary drive the Turlock route food truck five days a week. Mary parks, honks the horn (which sounds oddly similar to the Dukes of Hazzard horn) to announce the arrival of lunch, and begins to serve meals and groceries. Her route’s 11 daily stops include a men’s shelter, various parks, outside of a senior citizens facility, some neighborhoods, and the side of the road by some railroad tracks. Anyone can eat. No questions asked. If your birthday’s approaching, just let the truck know a few days in advance. They’ll try their best to find a donated cake to stick on the truck for you. There’s also a cabinet near the truck’s service window that opens from the outside stocked with bread so individuals and families can grab loaves to take home as needed.
En route at a stop light, a couple runs up to the truck and hands Miriam a warm box of pizza through the window. The couple eats from the food truck some weeks, but the times when they don’t need to and have extra funds, they surprise Misty and Miriam with a hot meal along the route to say “thank you!” Lines at the truck grow longer towards every month’s end and Misty and Miriam say that getting to know the clients is their favorite part of working the food truck. It makes their hearts happy to help when people say “If it weren’t for you I would have nothing to eat today.”
United Samaritan’s obtains meal ingredients and grocery bag contents from the food bank, grocery store donations, and local farm donations. One such farm is McKinley Family Farms nearby which runs a CSA, sells produce to local restaurants, and donates all of their overages to the food truck fleet. (If any of you greenhorns out there want to get some farm experience—wwoofing or interning at McKinley Family Farms wouldn’t be a bad idea). Three weeks ago the farm had an influx of eggplant and gave boxes and boxes full to United Samaritan’s.
There’s something very “come as you are” about a food truck, whether it’s soup kitchen style or the entrepreneurial restaurant kind. Food trucks meet people where they do life. A food truck soup kitchen just makes sense, and it’s certainly working for United Samaritan’s Foundation. There’s no dress code or standards of etiquette expected at a food truck. It’s just food. No questions asked (especially when it’s free!).