Reverse Food Truck Caters To Hunger Relief Programs

This summer in Minnesota's Twin Cities, a new kind of food truck is on the streets. Instead of selling food, this truck is collecting it and giving it to people who need it.

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Food trucks are becoming increasingly popular in cities across this country, as people line up on sidewalks for everything from tacos to barbecue to sushi. This summer in Minnesota's Twin Cities, a new kind of food truck is on the streets. It's the brainchild of entrepreneurs who were aiming to satisfy a different kind of hunger. From Minneapolis, Jess Mador reports.

JESS MADOR, BYLINE: At a recent Minneapolis street festival, several thousand people are sipping local craft beer from plastic cups and looking for snacks at dozens of tents and food trucks. One bright, emerald food truck stands out from the crowd.

ANGIE LEE: Well you can't miss it because it's big and green. And so a lot of people kind of stop and stare.

MADOR: Organizer Angie Lee says instead of selling food, this reverse food truck collects food and money, and delivers it to hunger relief programs in four states across the upper Midwest.

LEE: A food drive in the most literal sense.

MADOR: Lee admits the reverse food truck can be confusing to some people just looking for a bite to eat.

LEE: They'll try and order a hamburger or a taco and we say no, we're actually taking food. And then they're like, oh my gosh, this is the coolest thing ever.

MADOR: The truck was started by Twin Cities's beer company, Finnegans. The company already donates all its profits to hunger relief. Lee says the idea behind the reverse food truck, which doesn't sell alcohol, is to make it easier for people to give without even having to buy beer. Festival-goer, Becca Lindenfelser, donated a couple dollars at the truck. She says, she supports its mission.

BECCA LINDENFELSER: I think it does good for everyone. And it's, you know, to help people out is something I believe in. So, it's for a good cause.

MADOR: Jacob Ciuraru gave money. At first, he was surprised to see a food truck that wasn't selling anything.

JACOB CIURARU: This is a new thing for me, but as soon as I saw it, I came right up and throw some money in it. A little bit goes a long way sometimes.

MADOR: Every dollar raised buys one pound of fresh fruits and vegetables from small family farms and CSAs. The local produce means a lot to hunger relief groups. Produce is the most needed item at food shelves, but advocates say it's often difficult to find. Antihunger advocate Kristin Smith says the reverse food trucks' vegetable donations save groups lots of money they'd normally have to shell out to buy their own produce.

KRISTIN SMITH: Because anything that Emergency Foodshelter Network receives for free, we give away for free..

MADOR: And that often means more food for people who might otherwise go hungry. Demand for emergency food assistance in Minnesota and across the country has risen sharply as the number of hungry people has doubled over the last five years. Food pantries are struggling to keep up with the need.

KEITH REZAC: Donate 10 bucks?

MADOR: Keith Rezac is handing money through the window of the reverse food truck. He thinks people are more likely to donate if they see the truck on the street than if they had to research a charity online.

REZAC: It's easier when you're out and you're spending money in the first place that you're more likely to spend we you see it. Like, oh, hey, I see this truck, I will go and do that.

MADOR: Reverse food truck organizes are betting that's true. They're aiming for the truck to collect enough this summer to be able to distribute 50,000 pounds of food to the hungry by summers' end. For NPR News, I'm Jess Mador in Minneapolis.

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