Help on Wheels: How Your Food Truck Can Assist Hurricane Victims

When disaster strikes, food truck owners have a unique opportunity to contribute to relief efforts.
Chef serving from food truck
Designed to be self-sufficient, food trucks can be a great resource to both victims and first responders in disaster-affected areas. (Photo: Shutterstock/Nenetus)

In recent weeks, damage from hurricanes Harvey and Irma have left millions without access to power and other basic utilities. As relief efforts continue, one industry is in a unique position to help disaster victims. That industry is food trucks.

When a hurricane or other natural disaster strikes, many communities are left without electricity, gas or clean water. In such cases, a mobile kitchen can be a lifesaver. Specifically designed to be self-sufficient, food trucks can be a great resource to both victims and first responders in disaster-affected areas.

NCR Silver spoke with Matt Geller, president of the National Food Truck Association, to uncover how food truck owners can contribute to relief efforts.

Related: 7 Ways Your Small Business Can Help With Disaster Relief

Show up

The first way mobile restaurateurs can help is by simply showing up and making food available in areas affected by a disastrous event.

“A lot of businesses aren’t going to reopen right away,” said Geller. “Disaster relief is fraught with a lot of debris on roads, standing water, flooding, etc. Just getting in their truck, going to service their community — free meals being a great example of direct help, but also just showing up when a lot of people haven’t even come back to their homes yet — is definitely an example of food trucks having a direct impact and helping the community.”

Most food trucks are small, local businesses, serving the communities in which they live, so they are very connected to areas and the people who live and work there.

Geller said it’s common for food truck owners to give back to their communities by doing fundraisers for schools or helping with charity events. “They do a lot of things that have direct impact on their community — and this is just one of those things. It’s just part of their responsibility to their own communities,” he said.

food truck owner and happy customers

“The consumer base sees that and appreciates that level of commitment to their communities — and that generates a lot of goodwill.” – Matt Geller (Photo: Shutterstock/wavebreakmedia)

Feed the hungry

Having a kitchen on wheels is very helpful in places where gas, water and power are inaccessible. Food trucks come in with their own water, gas and electricity, typically through generators or supplemental battery power.

Related: 4 Ways to Succeed in the Food Truck Business

“In a disaster type of situation, you often have first responders packing up a bunch of food into chafing dishes and trying to keep it warm,” he explained. “They are not sure when they are going to have time to break and eat, and that can be problematic from a food safety standpoint. But in a food truck, they are making food to order. It’s the safest way to do it.”

Matt Gellar

When creating a disaster plan, local municipalities should consider how food truck in their community can help out, says Matt Geller, president of the National Food Truck Association. (Photo: Matt Geller)

Whether you keep your prices the same, offer a discount or give away meals for free is up to you, but “people never forget that type of generosity,” said Geller. “The consumer base sees that and appreciates that level of commitment to their communities — and that generates a lot of goodwill.”

Help prepare in advance

Because these businesses are so uniquely qualified to help in the case of a disaster, Geller advised communities to intentionally include food trucks in their disaster plans.

“Before there’s a disaster, before there’s a need for emergency food response, coordinate with your local food trucks. If there is an issue, they come in right away or as soon as it’s safe. Have a disaster relief plan that includes mobile kitchens that can get to places where other people can’t,” he said.

Related: How to Prepare Your Small Business for Disaster

Geller said the aftermath of Harvey and Irma will likely highlight how important kitchens on wheels can be to relief efforts. “In the future, every community should coordinate with their regional food truck association, or just some of the guys that have food trucks … to make sure if anything does happen, they’re ready to go and they know where to go.”

Disaster relief and rebuilding does take some time but food trucks will be around long after, he said. “I’m sure the consumer base is not going to forget their acts of generosity and their commitment to their community, so in the end it will even out.”

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