Waco nonprofits branch out into food truck industry

The World Hunger Relief Farm’s Veggie Van offers locally grown fruit and vegetables to Waco people. The van makes stops all around Waco through out the week. Live-in volunteers like Michael Cleveland staff the van. Photo credit: Trey Honeycutt

In the last several years, food trucks have taken Waco by storm, with hubs at University Parks Drive and Magnolia Marketplace as well as appearances at university events like Diadeloso. Pokey O’s, Xristo’s Cafe and Milo Local Provisions are only a few of the food trucks that serve distinctive options to local patrons. Meals on wheels are all around in this college town.

However, two local nonprofits are going beyond just adventurous cuisines by turning food trucks into tools for urban outreach. Urban Edibles, the latest installment of Mission Waco, and Veggie Van, which is operated by World Hunger Relief, are using the recent trend in portable restaurants to their advantage.

Jimmy Dorrell, founder of Mission Waco, works to rehabilitate the impoverished area of North Waco with the many different branches and programs of his nonprofit, including the Jubilee Theatre, the World Cup Cafe and, most recently, Urban Edibles.

Dorrell prides Mission Waco on offering all the aid of a charity organization without making those in need feel like they can’t be independent.

“Empowerment is really critical,” Dorrell said. “It’s the model that shows that a kid can work. We are not going to give him things; we are going to teach him how to work.”

This approach to ministry inspired the creation of Urban Edibles, which opened in September. To make a place for the young people of Waco to work and learn job skills, Dorrell repurposed a snow cone trailer that once catered to beachgoers in Galveston, giving it new life and purpose as a food truck. The goal of Urban Edibles isn’t to make a profit for Mission Waco, or even to break even. Its only purpose is to give 16-24-year-olds, an underemployed demographic in Waco, the opportunity to gain experience and job skills for the restaurant industry.

The food truck is usually parked at 1505 N. 15th St., where it dishes out pulled pork and chicken parmesan sandwiches, burgers and fries from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on weekdays.

Nazry Mustakim, who turned to Mission Waco for help in hard times, operates the Urban Edibles truck. He said he stayed to volunteer for the organization once he was back on his feet, and he later joined the staff to repay the kindness shown to him. Now, he wakes up at dawn to make breakfast for up to 40 of Waco’s homeless, another of the food truck’s services. Mustakim works for Urban Edibles as a way to gain experience for his own career in the food industry.

“Without Mission Waco, I wouldn’t be where I am now,” Mustakim said. “I am deeply grateful. Just pouring back and getting involved with Mission Waco is something I enjoy doing.”

Urban Edibles isn’t the only charitable caravan cruising through Waco, however. Veggie Van, a food truck that bring fresh, homegrown vegetables to the citizens of Waco, is part of a larger movement to end world hunger.

World Hunger Relief is a Christian organization dedicated to eradicating world hunger. Its mission is to aid those who struggle to meet their everyday, basic needs for survival. World Hunger Relief has utilized the Veggie Van to provide the people of Waco who live in food deserts with wholesome but inexpensive food, a combination which can be hard to find due to rising produce costs.

The USDA defines a food desert as a geographic region, usually in an impoverished area, with limited or no access to fresh fruit and vegetables. Large sections of Waco, mainly in the northern areas of the city, are characterized as food deserts, areas which are lacking in whole foods but rich in gas stations and convenience stores.

The Veggie Van is sent into the heart of these food deserts to offer a respite from the inexpensive, processed foods that are almost exclusively available there. The food truck provides a wide variety of vegetables grown just eight miles north of Waco as well as quality ingredients to make a meal with all for an affordable price.

“We are really trying to promote healthy eating and healthy food access,” said Darcy Bloom, the Veggie Van coordinator. “The Veggie Van is the way we felt we could contribute to this issue.”

The Veggie Van caters to those who are in dire need of fresh food. Discounts are offered to senior citizens as well as to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) users. SNAP is a government program that offers qualifying users with benefits that can be accessed on an electronic card. Veggie Van gives a 50 percent discount to SNAP members.

Waco certainly has plenty to offer in the way of unique food truck cuisine, but these two street eateries are setting themselves apart.