December 25, 2020
San José Spotlight is the city’s first nonprofit news organization dedicated to independent political and business reporting. Please support our public service journalism by clicking here.
A sea of RVs lined the road to the CityTeam men’s home in San Jose, where the nonprofit was handing out its annual Christmas Day dinner. Among them were two food trucks.
The organization had to change its plans after a case of COVID-19 was discovered in the shelter and kitchen. She had 48 hours to figure out a way to make dinner possible, said Darlene Tenes, CityTeam spokeswoman.
“The food trucks came by, which is great because we gave them very little time to prepare a few hundred meals,” she said. “You really did ascend.”
Tenes contacted Ryan Sebastian, founder of the food truck networking business Moveable, and two food trucks agreed to come out and give free meals to everyone who came.
One was the waffle quarters, where 100 plates of grilled chicken with white rice and broccoli were cooked – spread out through the window of the truck in small, tightly closed boxes.
Strong breezes and chilly temperatures didn’t stop people from pouring onto the crowded sidewalk where the trucks had been parked all afternoon.
Lupe Niño, who cooks and drives for Waffle Roost, said she had no idea she was going to work on Christmas Day until her boss called and told her about CityTeam’s dilemma.
“I had the day off, then the boss called me and asked if I would work. He just said ‘grab the truck’ and gave me the instructions,” she said in Spanish. “Of course I said yes.”
Although the trucks were paid for by donations requested by CityTeam, Niño said knowing that their meals are being served to the homeless who need them most brings their happiness.
“They don’t have food, so I’m glad I can help where I can,” she said. “I think people will love the food.”
In the narrow aisle of the waffle roost truck, Niño picked up slices of chicken and placed them on the grill. Every now and then she got out of the truck to get some fresh air and greet the other food service workers.
According to Tenes, CityTeam was able to cover the cost of all 300 meals through donations, despite paying $ 12 per meal, as opposed to the $ 2 it costs when the men’s house cooks the meal.
“The great thing about the people who donated $ 12 per meal is that not only are they feeding a homeless person on Christmas Day, but they’re also helping small businesses that have been very hard hit by the pandemic,” Tenes said. “It was an expense we didn’t expect, but we didn’t want anyone to go hungry on Christmas Day.”
Between his food truck and a table full of plastic containers full of groceries stood Gustavo Garcia, owner of Cielito Lindo’s Mexican street kitchen.
He said there was no way to miss the opportunity to make a little extra money on Christmas Day and feed people who don’t have food during the holidays.
“It’s because, like everyone else, we are going through a really difficult situation and events like this help us a lot,” Garcia said in Spanish. “It hurt to leave our families today (to work), but not all of us are able to help.”
Garcia said Cielito Lindo Mexican Street Kitchen prepared 150 cold meals, including cookies, apples and fries, and 50 hot meals.
Those who stopped by to eat had the option to have both a hot and cold meal, Tenes said.
Heather Hinojosa, who described herself as a resident of Charles Street, said she had a wonderful experience while CityTeam was distributing Thanksgiving meals and decided to come for the Christmas meal.
Hinojosa walked around the two trucks and guided people through their food options. She donated her time to give back for her free meal.
“I was hoping to give and come back just because I’m in the same situation as many of these wonderful people,” she said. “It doesn’t even matter (what food I get), I’m just grateful.”
She said she was working on gig jobs like delivering groceries to make money. When she has enough to stay in hotels, she takes the extra soap and other toiletries to give back to others.
“I try to give things back to people I see in my situation,” said Hinojosa. “And to homeless animals, I’m a sucker for (them).”
Contact Vicente Vera at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @vicentejvera.