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Food trucks in St. Petersburg come together to feed families in need

The Food Truck Convoy has already fed hundreds of families.

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A group of caring St. Petersburg residents sprang into action last week on a mission to help feed local families using food trucks.

Now known as the Food Truck Convoy, the project was started by Dru Rabin and Blake Clark as a way to help St. Petersburg families who live outside Pinellas County School District’s free meal distribution locations.

With help from food donations, the collection of food trucks fed families last week at Queen Dennis Park, Lealman Park and in Midtown. This week, the trucks are in Jordan Park in south St. Petersburg.

Jordan Park residents work to keep socially distant as they get in line and gather around one of the food trucks part of the Food Truck Convoy. [DIRK SHADD | Times]

Rabin is the director of St. Pete Music, Acting and Dance, a drama school in the space where Radius Churc h congregates. Clark is the pastor at Radius Church, and also owns the PB and Jelly Deli Food Truck, which over the past four years has donated 5,000 meals to various local charities including Pinellas Hope and the St. Petersburg Free Clinic.

“I just did a mental checklist of who do I know, what do I know and what can I do?" said Rabin. “I started pulling together people and resources that I knew could get food into the neighborhoods where people who have transportation disadvantages are.”

Rabin thought the food truck model was perfect because not only does it help the food truck owners whose events have been canceled, it’s also in keeping with the CDC’s guidelines that encourage social distancing and advise against large crowds. Many members of Clark’s congregation were eager to volunteer.

Rabin and Clark reached out to Olga Bof who runs Keep St. Petersburg Local, of which PB and Jelly Deli is a member. Bof connected them with the owners of two other food trucks, the Twisted Indian and Smoothie Operator, who agreed to let them use their trucks.

Rabin used a messaging application called Band to round up a network of 10 food truck owners and to keep track of when and where they would be available.

A whirlwind of connections were made, and soon there was a network of assistance.

After hearing about the project through Feeding Tampa Bay, restaurant owner Steve Westphal’s St. Pete Hospitality Group donated the meals that the trucks serve: 400 portions of chicken, rice and beans. The meals are cooked in the kitchen of the Hangar restaurant that Westphal owns, under the direction of chef Matt Smith. Fellow Keep St. Petersburg Local member Karma Juice Bar and Eatery donated loaves of bread to go along with the meals.

Caitlyn Peacock, executive director of the Tampa Bay Network to End Hunger, helps to organize the line of Jordan Park residents. [DIRK SHADD | Times]

Feeding Tampa Bay, the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg, and the Tampa Bay Network to End Hunger (who are handling requests for the trucks) were looped in to help coordinate and pinpoint which neighborhoods to target.

New non-profit the St. Petersburg Foundation donated to the project. Food truck owners and their staff are also being compensated through the foundation’s Job Catalyst Board. The non-profit is able to pay those workers through its COVID-19 Crisis Response Fund.

“Know thy neighbor,” Rabin said. “I can’t preach that enough.”

The Food Truck Convoy will be in Jordan Park from 4:30-6:30 p.m. daily until April 3.

A volunteer with the Tampa Bay Network to End Hunger, center, helps at the Food Truck Convoy, which is offering free meals to families in need. [DIRK SHADD | Times]

It’s not yet clear how long they’ll be able to keep doing this. But Rabin said they continue to get requests to bring the trucks to more locations, and will likely be able to do it again next week.

He said the project demonstrates that there are always ways to help.

“This is how you show up for people.”

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