Food trucks rescue Christmas dinner for San Jose homeless
Cielito Lindo Mexican Street Kitchen food truck owner Gustavo Garcia gives a cold and hot meal to Heather Hinojosa who describes herself as a transient residing around Charles Street. Photo by Vicente Vera.

A sea of RVs lined the road to CityTeam’s men’s shelter in San Jose, where the nonprofit distributed its annual Christmas Day dinner. Among them were two food trucks.

Having to change plans after a case of COVID-19 was identified at the shelter and kitchen, the organization had 48 hours to find a way to make the dinner happen, said CityTeam spokesperson Darlene Tenes.

“The food trucks came by, which is great because we gave them very little notice to make a few hundred meals,” she said. “They really stepped up.”

Tenes got in touch with Ryan Sebastian, founder of the food truck networking business Moveable, and two food trucks agreed to come out and distribute free meals to anyone who came.

One was the Waffle Roost, which cooked 100 plates of grilled chicken with white rice and broccoli — handed out through the truck’s window in small tightly-sealed boxes.

Strong breezes and cool temperatures did not stop people from trickling into the cluttered sidewalk where the trucks were parked throughout the afternoon.

Lupe Niño, who cooks and drives for Waffle Roost, said she had no idea she’d be working on Christmas Day until her boss called and told her about CityTeam’s dilemma.

“I had the day free, then the boss called me and asked if I’d work. He just said, ‘Grab the truck’ and gave me the directions,” she said in Spanish. “Of course, I said yes.”

Though the trucks were paid through CityTeam’s solicited donations, Niño said knowing her meals will be served to homeless people who need them the most brings her happiness.

“They don’t have any food so I’m glad that I could be of help where I can,” she said. “I think the people are going to love the food.”

In the narrow walkway inside the Waffle Roost truck, Niño grabbed slices of chicken and placed them on the grill. She walked out of the truck every now and then to get some fresh air and greet the other food service workers.

Tenes said CityTeam was able to cover the costs of all 300 meals through donations even though they paid $12 per meal, as opposed to the $2 it costs when the men’s shelter prepares the food.

“The great thing about the people who donated $12 per meal is that not only is it feeding a homeless person on Christmas Day but it’s also helping to support small businesses who have been hit very hard 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.”

Standing in between his food truck and a table stacked high with food-filled plastic containers was Gustavo Garcia, owner of Cielito Lindo Mexican Street Kitchen.

He said there was no way he would miss the opportunity to make some extra money on Christmas Day as well as feed people who are without food for the holidays.

“It’s because we’re going through a really difficult situation too like everyone else, and events like this help us so much,” Garcia said in Spanish. “It hurt to leave our families today (to work), but not all of us are in a position to help.”

 

Garcia said Cielito Lindo Mexican Street Kitchen prepared 150 cold meals that included cookies, apples and chips and 50 hot meals.

Those who came by for food had the option to pick up both a hot meal and a cold meal, Tenes said.

Heather Hinojosa, who described herself as a transient residing around Charles Street, said she had a wonderful experience during CityTeam’s Thanksgiving meal distribution and decided to come for the Christmas meals.

Walking around the two trucks helping guide people through their food options, Hinojosa said she is donating her time to give back for her free meal.

“I was hoping to give and to get back just because I’m in the same situation as many of these wonderful people are,” she said. “It doesn’t even matter (what food I get), I’m just grateful.”

She said she works gig jobs, such as food delivery, to make money. When she has enough to stay in hotels, she’ll take the extra soap and other hygienics to give back to others.

“I try to give things back to people who I see in my situation,” Hinojosa said. “And to homeless animals, I’m a sucker for (them).”

Contact Vicente Vera at [email protected] or follow him @vicentejvera on Twitter.

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