In its first summer, district’s food truck is a success

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July 16, 2013 // UPDATED 3:09 pm - July 23, 2013
By: Gabrielle Martinson
At Jackson Square Park, Bobbi Varichak hands out a free lunch from the Minneapolis Public Schools food truck.
Gabrielle Martinson
Gabrielle Martinson
Truck makes free summer meals program mobile

HOLLAND — Minneapolis Public Schools introduced its first food truck to its summer meals program this year to hand out free lunches at four different sites in Minneapolis.

The truck serves as a site for MPS’s Summer Food Service Program, which serves free meals to children 18 and under at sites around Minneapolis to ensure children continue to receive nutritious meals after school is out.

The food truck was introduced to the district’s Culinary and Nutrition Services Department through a grant from Second Harvest Heartland. The truck travels to Farwell Park, Currie Park, Jackson Square Park and the North Regional Library Monday through Friday, spending 45 minutes at each stop handing out lunches.

MPS Dietetic Technician Sara Eugene said the four stops were chosen because there were no community centers or schools in the areas, places which usually serve as sites for the summer program.

Made out of a revamped Blue Bird bus, the food truck is equipped with coolers and a heater on the inside to hold the prepackaged lunches it distributes each day. The outside is decorated with brightly colored pictures of fruits and vegetables, a reminder of MPS’s initiative to introduce fresher, healthier foods to its schools.

Food truck workers Bobbi Varichak and Elijah Dodds are the heart of the operation. The pair runs the food truck Monday through Friday, with Dodds driving and working inside the truck and Varichak standing outside handing out lunches.

“It’s really about the kids,” said Varichak, who works in the cafeteria at North Senior High during the school year. “They make it so much fun.”

Dodds said he had no idea what to expect coming into his first year working with the district’s summer program, but he hasn’t regretted a second of it.

“It’s very fulfilling to know that you are servicing the community and to be receiving the love that we have received,” Dodds said.

The Northeast community has welcomed the food truck with open arms. Dodds and Varichak said the Jackson Square Park stop is their personal favorite.

“We have kids running to the bus,” Varichak said. “They know what it is, and they’re very appreciative.”

The summer program distributed 387,845 meals last summer at 100 different sites. After expanding to 115 sites this summer because of high demand, the district plans to distribute just as many meals, if not more.

Eleven-year-old Savaughn Young said he likes that the food truck comes to a spot where he frequently hangs out.

“I’ve gone to other locations too,” Young said. “The (chicken) nuggets are the best.”

Christian Duffenbach lives in the neighborhood of Jackson Square Park, and said eating at the food truck has been a frequent treat for his two boys.

“(They) love it,” Duffenbach said. “From a parent’s standpoint, you can’t deny it when they say, ‘Oh, can we stay at the park and have lunch?’ It’s really nice, it’s a great service.”

Duffenbach also said the truck has provided a connection to the Minneapolis Public Schools system, which has been helpful for his son who is starting first grade in the fall.

“We’ve told him the link between the food truck and Minneapolis Public Schools, and since staying at school for lunch will be something new in the fall, just that link between the school and healthy eating is great,” Duffenbach said.

Varichak said the truck’s North Regional Library stop is another place where the community has benefited from the free lunches.

“They have so many programs in the library for kids, but they have no place to go to eat; parents just drop them off,” Varichak said. “They’ve actually seen a decrease in behavior issues at the library (since the food truck), so it has worked wonders for the community.”

The district opened its meals to adults this summer, as well. Adults much purchase cards that cost $15 and have 20 punches worth 75 cents each. Breakfast and snacks are 75 cents, while lunch and dinner are $1.50.

Varichak said the food truck gives away a few free lunches to adults each day thanks to some donated meal cards.

The food truck currently hands out anywhere between 160–185 lunches a day. Eugene said because of the truck’s success so far, there are plans to expand in the future.

“Next year there’s a plan to expand to doing breakfast and possibly a snack, as well, and then maybe expanding the routes, too,” Eugene said.

Varichak and Dodds said they don’t know if they will be back on the truck next year, as the sites are assigned through a bidding process, but they are making the most of the time they have.

“I made up a song like: ‘The wheels on the food truck go round and round, servicing the town…’” Varichak sang, laughing. “I just have fun with what I do.”

Varichak and Dodds’ energy is infectious, and the pair is never short on hugs and high-fives from kids at each stop.

“It’s been very fun,” Dodds said. “There’s never a dull moment, I can say that.”

The Summer Food Service Program runs through Aug. 16.