All The Small Things

By Mike Sauer

Maybe it’s got something to do with the gloomy, cloud-filtered early morning light, but as parking lots go, the one located in the 4600 block of Market Street really isn’t much to look at. Oil stains and murky puddles courtesy of an early-fall storm pock the property, and everything feels more than a little worn and sullied.

Then you see the smile. Welcoming. Buoying. It’s not the one emanating from the artfully illustrated carrot waving from the hood of an otherwise inconspicuous food truck parked in the middle of this somber space. It’s the one grinning a greeting through the truck’s windshield.

Nodding a hello, Teresa Smith bounds down the steps of her award-winning endeavor into social enterprise — a mobile eatery that provides San Diego’s homeless population with affordable and health-conscious hot meals — and introduces herself with a winning blend of congeniality and cool. “What’s the deal with all the rain last night? Well, we’ve definitely dealt with worse. You ready to have some fun?”

Serving meals to those battling personal issues ranging from mental illness to depression to drug addiction would not rank tremendously high on most folk’s fun-meter. But for Smith, CEO of the poverty mitigation nonprofit, Dreams for Change, who moonlights as a PhD candidate in SOLES’ Nonprofit Leadership and Management program, it’s a moral imperative. “It comes down to a simple question: ‘Why not?’ There’s so much that needs to be done in the world, and money and material things have never really meant that much to me … ”

A somewhat panicked voice from inside the truck suggests her volunteers need help, stat. She turns in a flash and heads back to solve the most recent crisis, but stops short, turns and offers with her trademark grin, “Put it this way: If not me, then who?”

Smith’s energy and enthusiasm are palpable, and just now, she’s focused on getting this four-wheeled show on the road, ASAP. All three of this morning’s volunteers — a friend and teammate from another of Smith’s life passions; softball, and two wide-eyed, well-intentioned college students — are preparing for today’s run to downtown San Diego’s East Village district. Their orderly approach suggests both good coaching and familiarity. “When you work on the truck, things tend to move really quickly; there’s no lag time,” says volunteer Hannah, an SDSU undergrad currently pursing a degree in social work. “Teresa likes to run a tight ship.” 

Read the full story in the Spring 2013 issue of USD Magazine