Feeding hungry hearts
by Keri Vermeulen
Most of us have smelled the siren scent of the food truck – the thick aromas of comfort food (think grilled meats and veggies, fried onions, melted cheese, and exotic spices) beckoning to our stomachs as we walk down urban sidewalks or mingle at outdoor festivals.
The food truck industry has rolled past ‘trendy’ in Metro Vancouver, and parked on ‘mainstay’. According to a 2015 Vancity report on the local food truck industry, there are over 300 food trucks operating in Metro Vancouver and Victoria. The report also said there was a 40 per cent increase in health permits issued to food trucks in all three of Metro Vancouver’s health regions in the last five years.
Now, an urban Surrey outreach ministry has leveraged that remarkable food truck popularity to launch a new social enterprise. Taste of Heaven food truck from NightShift Street Ministries kicked into gear last summer, serving up delicious gourmet sausages in a bun to church gatherings, job sites, community events and festivals all over the Lower Mainland.
Their hand-held, street style, food has been met with rave reviews, and the satisfying bonus to the meal is that all net profits help NightShift continue their services reaching out to homeless people in Surrey, 365 nights a year. In addition to their meal outreach, NightShift provides emergency nursing and counselling, an extreme weather emergency overnight shelter for women, a variety of drop-in programs for men and women, ongoing counselling, referrals and consistent loving contact.
With the homeless population at over 3,500 in Metro Vancouver (up at least 30 per cent, according to the last Vancouver Homeless Count, since 2014), Taste of Heaven food truck is bringing timely awareness to a devastating social issue. “Customers get a taste of heaven when they bite into one of our sausages, while increasing public awareness of what NightShift does on the street every night,” says NightShift’s founder and president, MaryAnne Connor. “They have the opportunity to give back through the purchase of a gourmet sausage.”
As a non-profit outreach organization that receives no government funding, Connor’s ministry is always in need of finances. A few years ago, her team looked at ways to create new revenue streams and help build awareness about the work NightShift has done with the homeless population in downtown Surrey for 14 years (and now Langley this year). Realizing their old food truck, which has been around since the ministry’s early days and served about 300,000 meals, was hobbling along “on duct-tape and faith” says Connor, the idea for a new food truck, with a dual purpose, was born. Taste of Heaven food truck was conceptualized two years ago, as a truck that could be used for nightly meal outreaches, and also make money for the ministry by selling gourmet street food at festivals, public events, church gatherings, private parties and sports tournaments.
“Our entire team – donors, staff and volunteers – pulled together to make the truck happen from concept to final product,” shares Connor, who says so far, Taste of Heaven has been an overwhelming success, thanks in part to the partnership created with Stapleton Sausage Co., a local, family run business who provides the hand-made, GMO and gluten free gourmet sausages for the menu. The truck also serves the deliciously popular Hardbite chips, also locally owned and operated. “The menu has been a hit at special events including church and corporate events, who want to support a worthwhile cause such as NightShift, as well as bless their customers and employees.”
Taste of Heaven coordinator Kirsten Dyck says hiring the food truck is a great way for churches, companies, sports teams, special events and more to enjoy a great locally sourced meal together, and an opportunity to help people in difficult life situations on the street. “My passion comes from working in outreach on the streets,” says Dyck, who has been serving with outreach teams at NightShift for four years. “I look forward to connecting with them (people on the street) and see how they’re doing. Some nights I expect to shine light into their lives, but they shine it into mine.”
Dyck says operating the food truck, for her, is an extension of serving. “I love getting out in the community, getting to know people and sharing with them what NightShift is doing. For those who know about us, they know we’re doing more than serving a meal. It means so much more. You’re not just filling your own stomach. You’re supporting others.”