Minneapolis Public Schools “Street Eats” Food Truck
Minneapolis Public Schools Culinary and Wellness Services rolled out the "Street Eats" food truck in the summer of 2018; designed to increase access to no cost, healthy meals for all youth ages 18 and under. The truck serves at community locations during the summer months where food access is currently limited, such as parks, schools, camps, and libraries.
In Minneapolis, Minnesota, over 21,000 children rely on free or reduced price meals during the school year. When school is out for the summer months, many of these children do not know where their next meal is coming from. While the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) does operate a federal summer child nutrition program, many youth and families are either not aware of the program or do not have a food site within close proximity to their home.
Through a partnership with the Cargill Foundation and the Super Bowl Legacy Fund, Minneapolis Public Schools Culinary and Wellness Services (MPS CWS) developed a "Street Eats" Food Truck; designed to bring food to youth during the summer months when food access is scarce. The truck was designed with the goal of producing fresh, hot, nutritious meals that would be served at no-cost to youth as well as providing increased awareness and increased participation in the USDA's Summer Food Program through the truck's presence in and around the community.
During the summer of 2018, the truck visited multiple locations that were readily accessible and safe for youth, serving no-cost meals to those ages 18 and under. Locations were chosen through local community partnerships with existing organizations that saw a need for food access during the summer months. These locations included Minneapolis Park and Recreation sites, Hennepin County Library sites, Minneapolis Public School sites, local apartment/housing complexes, and community summer camps. A set schedule was chosen for each stop so local youth and families knew which days and times they could depend on a food truck meal. Information about food truck stop dates and times was posted on the MPS CWS website and was also available through a state-wide "Summer Eats" app designed by Hunger Impact Partners. With the free download of the app, users could identify sites nearest to their location at which no-cost meals were being served.
MPS CWS staff persons drove the truck to the assigned stops, prepared/cooked food, and served youth each day. Menu items included Certified Angus Beef Burgers with house-made potato salad, nachos made with local free-range turkey, black beans, salsa, and seasoned sour cream, and burrito bowls with whole grain rice and vegetables. Each meal also included fresh and cupped fruit options and milk.
The benefits of the Street Eats truck were far reaching. Nearly 4,000 meals were served from the truck at no-cost during the summer months; as part of a larger MPS CWS Summer Food Program that fed over 300,000 meals and snacks during its ten-week operation. Summer Food Program participation increased due to the increased awareness of the program's availability. Partner sites reported reduced behavioral problems among youth on days that food was readily available. Youth were also exposed to fresh, nutritious meal options on a daily basis.
MPS CWS plans to expand the use of the food truck next summer to include additional stops to reach more youth and continue to increase both food access and program awareness . Furthermore, since the start of the 2018-2019 school year, the truck has been utilized to visit MPS schools to offer an alternative food service line to increase student meal participation during busy lunch hours, feed youth and families at schools and community events, and provide important outreach and education to youth and families in our community about healthy eating and wellness.
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
The MPS Street Eats Food Truck:
1). Brings fresh, nutritious, hot, no-cost meals directly to youth during the summer months when food access is restricted
2). Partners with existing community locations to build relationships and strengthen current support services
What is the current status of your innovation?
MPS CWS looks to build on the foundation of the Street Eats Food Truck's work that was completed in the summer of 2018 by enhancing and expanding as the program grows. In addition to the summer work, MPS CWS is currently exploring ways to utilize the food truck during the school year to maximize its effectiveness and reach.
Collaborations & Partnerships
The Cargill Foundation and the SuperBowl Legacy fund were integral to secure start up funding for the project. Local community organizations such as the Minneapolis Park Board, Hennepin County Libraries, and Minneapolis Public Schools were and are essential to the continued success of the model by providing resources and locations at which the truck executes its mission.
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
The Cargill Foundation and the SuperBowl Legacy fund provided initial start up funding as part of their mission to improve access to nutritious food, increase healthy food consumption and behaviors to enable students ages 2-12 to learn.
Community partners have benefited through the MPS CWS food truck relationship by providing a no-cost food source for youth that attend programming or visit their locations during the summer months.
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
As a result of the Street Eats Food Truck, nearly 4,000 meals were served from the truck at no-cost during the summer months; as part of a larger MPS CWS Summer Food Program that fed over 300,000 meals and snacks during its ten-week operation. Summer Food Program participation increased due to the increased awareness of the program's availability. Partner sites reported reduced behavioral problems among youth on days that food was readily available. Youth were also exposed to fresh, nutritious meal options on a daily basis.
In the future, we see increased meals served, sites visited, and Summer Food Program presence as the result of the Street Eats Food Truck.
Challenges and Failures
One of the main challenges was communicating that meals served from the Street Eats Truck are in fact, no-cost - and with no strings attached. This required a community presence and relationship and trust building. Another challenge was weather. On inclement weather days, the truck still visited sites to serve but saw lower participation as youth were served in an outdoor location. Several sites navigated this challenge by opening up community rooms or other service areas in the event of inclement weather. Another challenge was adult meals, which are not funded through the program and cannot be provided at no cost. This was addressed by offering low cost adult meals for purchase. One final challenge was/is ensuring the USDA's Summer Food Program guidelines are met in the service of the meal. This is done through educating MPS CWS staff, the community, and youth about the importance of following the guidelines to ensure continuation of the program.
Conditions for Success
Initial start up funding will be essential to the success. In addition, sustained funding for meals will also be essential to the success. In this model, the USDA's Summer Food Program provides the sustained reimbursement funding for meals served from the food truck. This model of funding will require continued federal government support for the Summer Food Program. Finally, community partners and local support are essential in the delivery model; providing the locations at which meals are served and the youth that consume the meals.
The Street Eats Food Truck could be replicated across the United States, especially in those areas qualifying for the USDA's summer food program. This would provide a sustained funding for the no-cost meals served to youth over the summer months. In addition, the model could be replicated worldwide with a sustainable funding source for food; with the idea that bringing food access directly to the community benefits all involved.
Start the process of connecting with community partners early on in the planning process. Work with existing programming to maximize resources. Youth feedback about menu items is also a plus!