A new food truck — this one’s free

The New Haven Public Schools food truck provides free lunch and dinner.
The New Haven Public Schools food truck provides free lunch and dinner. Photo by Emily Foxhall.

In the summer, children usually look for the ice cream truck, but this August, it was a bright orange truck covered with pictures of fruits and vegetables that drew neighborhood kids.

The New Haven Public Schools food truck, the first of its kind in Conn., stopped at three school parking lots for 45 minutes each weekday to deliver free lunch and dinner to any child aged 18 and under. The truck was delivering around 600 free meals a day by the program’s end this week. Tim Cipriano, the NHPS head chef, said that they hope to expand the food truck program to include more vehicles and extend service through the school year.

Cipriano said the concept for a food truck as a supplement to the summer meals program began when Aisha Flynn, a New Haven Public School kitchen manager, shared the idea with him several years ago. Cipriano said he then brought the concept to United Way of New Haven, who purchased the truck earlier this summer in Hamden.

Dawn Barros, one of the three food truck operators, said kids often sprint to the vehicle as if it were an ice cream truck. Parents even honk their horns on the road to try to flag them down, she added.

On their last day Tuesday night, Barros and another food service employee arrived at their usual location in the Betsy Ross High School parking lot. Opening the back door to the truck, they began passing out the prepared bagged dinners: each filled with a sandwich, piece of fruit, cookie and juice. Barros said that the truck usually carries around 300 meals for each trip.

“It’s a lot of fun. The kids truly love us,” Barros said, adding, “They’re hungry … They see us and they run.”

Cipriano said he hopes to expand the food truck fleet to four, including one equipped with a walk-through salad bar and another with a kitchen. Cipriano said they also hope to serve weekend meals throughout the year.

And upgrades to the current truck are also in the works: it will be receiving a refrigeration system and a glass service window in the coming weeks.

The Summer Food Truck program is a partnership between New Haven Public Schools and United Way of Greater New Haven, which are both part of the Connecticut No Kid Hungry campaign that began this March.

“It really captivated our imagination because it seemed like a perfect way to make sure the kids got the food,” said Jennifer Heath, Executive Vice President for United Way of Greater New Haven. “We would love to see it stay on the road, to make sure kids get the food they need.”

The food truck service supplemented the already existing free summer lunch program under the USDA Summer Food Service Program. While free lunches were previously available at 37 selected locations in New Haven such as schools or community centers, this truck increased access by adding three sites.

The food truck has also been nominated for the Food Network’s Great Food Truck Race, which offers $10,000 in prize money.

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