It’s a summertime Wednesday at 10:30 a.m. when an oversized truck, decorated with smiling meat and vegetable caricatures, arrives and parks across the street from the Neil Good Day Center in downtown San Diego.
As soon as the truck stops, Teresa Smith and two volunteers, Kat and Chris, waste no time getting themselves ready for what’s ahead. With the speed and precision of an auto racing pit crew, they quickly transform the vehicle into “The Fresh” food truck.
And it only takes a few minutes before a steady stream of regular customers — San Diego’s downtown homeless population — arrive. Hungry for something freshly made, prepared with healthy ingredients, inexpensive through the use of Cal-Fresh benefits/EBT cards (formerly food stamps), the hope is that this is a program that facilitates the momentum for change.
“We think they deserve the best, just like everyone else,” Smith said of her clientele. “It’s bringing that attitude, that confidence to help build confidence in them, so we can start taking a different approach to homelessness and people feel better about wanting to do something about this situation.”
Smith, a University of San Diego graduate student in the School of Leadership and Education Sciences’ (SOLES) Nonprofit Leadership and Management program, is the CEO of Dreams for Change, a San Diego nonprofit.
Focused on a variety of ideas to help the city’s homeless, Dreams for Change’s mobile food truck service not only feeds its customers, but, ultimately, Smith wants to install a job training program that helps them get back on their feet.
Smith’s dream received a major boost when she won a top prize of $10,000 in USD’s second annual Social Innovation Challenge in April. The money, she said, helped cover the costs associated with purchasing the truck, supplies and more so she could launch the idea this summer.
Giving San Diego’s homeless access to better, healthier food such as fruit, vegetables, salads and drinks is only part of it. Chris, who was taking food orders on this day, also helps his customers sign up for Cal-Fresh benefits.
Chris and Kat, who was operating the grill for turkey burgers and steak and chicken burritos and fajitas, said being involved in this program gives them a sense of personal pride and the chance to give back to those in a predicament that had also befallen them in the past.
“Teresa’s a really good person and I really enjoy doing what I can, knowing that I’m able to help others,” Chris said. “I love it.”
The food truck operates Wednesday through Saturday, making stops at multiple locations downtown for lunch and again at dinner.
Smith is determined to see her idea succeed. That’s why, this fall, even as she takes three SOLES classes and tends to other Dreams for Change projects, her customers’ needs are equally important. She wants them to know they have a place where food can nourish their bodies, mind and spirit.
— Ryan T. Blystone