COMMENTARY

Public officials take note: Food trucks are needed for disaster relief

Oct. 11, 2017 | by Elliot Maras

Photo courtesy of iStock.

It's been a rough year for disasters, both natural and man made, with the hurricanes and the recent mass shooting in Las Vegas. Community resources have been put to the test to help citizens in need of basic necessities such as food and water. Government entities charged with handling these emergencies are reviewing response plans to better assist people when future needs arise.

First responders receive free meals from Stripchezze in the aftermath of the Las Vegas mass shooting. Photo courtesy of Stripchezze.

Hurricanes Irma and Harvey and the Las Vegas shooting brought hundreds of food trucks to the front lines of the relief activities without a thought for the costs involved. No one has calculated the financial sacrifice, but scores of individual food trucks set themselves back thousands of dollars.

And they're ready to do it again.

Public officials need to take note

State and local government officials should recognize the important role the trucks play in getting food to people in need, particularly first responders and health care professionals.

Food trucks have revolutionized the foodservice landscape in the last decade. The public at large is well aware of their culinary prowess. But these entrepreneurs have also learned their local communities and are familiar with where they're needed when emergencies strike. They have proven themselves an invaluable community resource.

As state and local governments consider ways to best regulate the growing food truck industry, they should recognize the great resource food trucks offer in disaster planning.

When the hurricanes struck, Matt Geller, president of the National Food Truck Association, fielded calls from public officials from both Texas and Florida looking for food trucks to help out. The officials realized food trucks could help, but they did no advance planning. 

The food trucks, meanwhile, initiated their own relief efforts.

Food trucks took initiative

In Las Vegas, the site of the worst mass shooting in the nation's history, the Urban Seed Foundation, an organization dedicated to ending "food deserts," was instrumental in coordinating food trucks in the relief effort. Jolene Mannina, a former food truck operator and chairperson of the group's culinary advisory board, also reached out to the police, the convention center and the hospitals to find out the best places and times to send food. Mannina told Food Truck Operator she wanted to be sure food was sent when and where it was needed.

Christian Guzman, who operates the Dragon Grille food truck and organizes regular food truck events called Food Truck Friendly, mobilized Las Vegas food trucks to serve first responders and health care professionals at two hospitals around the clock.

When Hurricane Irma hit, a non-profit called the McDonald Associates Collective Collaboration contacted Generation Entertainment/Generation Food Truck, a Tampa, Florida-based food truck event and entertainment promoter, to get food trucks to public sites. 

When Hurricane Harvey hit, a non-profit in San Antonio, Texas called Chef Cooperative sent 20 chefs to the Guerilla Gourmet food truck and catering kitchen, one of the only buildings with operating electricity and water in a seven-county area.

These local food truck networks can certainly provide government agencies great input on disaster planning, so that the next time an emergency strikes, relief officials will know who to call and where to direct people in need of food and water.

Food truck associations needed

The need for better emergency planning also speaks to the need for local, regional and state food truck associations. While food truck networks like event management organizations have done a good job responding to emergencies, formal organizations tasked specifically with managing emergencies can do a better job working with government entities when the need arises.

Food truck associations are also needed to encourage more sensible food truck regulations. 

Jack Roundtree, owner of the Triple J BBQ food truck, was serving free lunches to utility workers cleaning up after Hurricane Irma when police in Green Cove Springs, Florida shut him down for not having a local permit.

While Roundtree's case is not typical, cities across the country often impose regulations that make it difficult for food trucks to operate.

The Institute for Justice, a public interest organization that tries to help improve food truck regulations, encourages local governments to allow food trucks to operate anywhere if they are licensed by any government entity. Robert Frommer, executive director of the institute's national street vending initiative, thinks food trucks should be regulated at the state level to create more uniform rules. 

There is a lot of work to do to decide how to best regulate the food truck industry. But the need to improve disaster planning is immediate, as no one knows when and where the next emergency will strike.

Public officials have an opportunity to tap the proven capabilities of food trucks. 


Topics: Customer Service / Experience, Food & Beverage, Independent Operators, Policy / Legislation / Regulation, Safety, Social Responsibility



Elliot Maras
Elliot Maras is the editor of KioskMarketplace.com and FoodTruckOperator.com.

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