To better deal with temperatures dipping into the 20s Wednesday night, Kristin Swaggart and her two Pendleton High School volunteers wore jackets and beanies instead of their usual chef gear as they got ready to start serving food to the city’s homeless.
The trio was at work outside the Pendleton Warming Station in the state-of-the-art food truck recently purchased by “Chef K” and the school’s culinary arts program with a $100,000 grant from Farmers Insurance.
The warming station is featured prominently in the culinary program’s plans to deploy its newly purchased food truck into the community and expand its field operations.
Some kinks were still being worked out: as freshman Autumn Saxton washed her hands before handling the food, water stopped flowing out of the faucet. Saxton’s hands were thoroughly lathered by the time Swaggart was able to get the generator back online.
The food truck was made possible by the grant from Farmers Insurance, which required an extended campaign from the teacher and Pendleton High School. Her food truck concept was one of the top vote getters in the country and when the prize was announced at a special ceremony in November 2016, students rushed Warburg Court.
Swaggart acquired the truck over the summer, fully loaded with the type of equipment expected for a nationally competitive program. The truck’s appliances include an oven, a stove, a grill, a griddle, a smoker and deep fryers.
The truck has already been put to use at events like Oktoberfest and the Round-Up. When the culinary program acted as the gourmet food service for the Round-Up’s 1910 Room, Swaggart said 12 students were in the truck simultaneously — handling everything from cooking to cashiering to dishwashing.
Swaggart is taking it a little more slowly with the food truck when it comes to warming station service. The culinary program served the warming station once a week last year by preparing the food beforehand, because of the station’s limited cooking space.
Although Swaggart is considering a more ambitious holiday dinner next week, she decided to stick with prepared food for Wednesday’s meal of macaroni and cheese, salad, applesauce and yogurt parfait.
Swaggart made accommodations for some of the diners — one preferred to eat his food out of a container with his own utensils while another needed the bacon chunks in the macaroni removed because of an aversion to pork — and then prompted Saxton and fellow volunteer Bella Baumgartner to open the food truck.
“Alright, let’s go,” she told her students. “Open for business.”
A queue of 10 warming station clients gather in front of the truck, the plastic utensils and napkins in their hand acting as a ticket. Swaggart described the warming station diners as “genuinely kind,” and they exchange jokes and pleasantries as the residents accept their meals.
Warming station executive director Chris Clemons opened the door for the lodgers as they made their way into the dining room.
“It almost brings tears to my eyes, to see them parked out here,” he said.
The warming station always offers food to those who stay there. Big John’s Hometown Pizza delivers a weekly donation and professional caterers often deliver their surplus, Clemons said.
But the food truck and culinary program offer some additional friendly faces besides the volunteers who already staff the warming station.
The new food truck garnered a thumbs up from the Round-Up as well.
Round-Up Publicity Director Randy Thomas said the kitchen in the food truck made the 1910 Room run smoother than it had in 2016, when the chefs and students made most of the food at the Pendleton High School kitchen and then plated it at a rented trailer in the Round-Up Grounds.
Swaggart is still thinking of ways to utilize the truck. She said it could be used for choir concerts at the high school. Instead of the usual bottled drinks and snacks, the culinary program could offer a fancy dessert.
She’s explicit that whatever event the high school caters, that it won’t encroach on private enterprise.
“It’s important for us not be seen as competition,” she said.
After the initial line, only a few more lodgers trickled in, allowing the original group to come back for seconds. Swaggart and the girls closed down the truck, took the leftovers into the warming station for any late-night visitors and bid the volunteers goodbye.
Both Saxton and Baumgartner said they enjoyed the experience. Swaggart said the volunteer opportunities are popular enough with students that she can bring back a different group of helpers each week throughout the warming station season.
The trio cleaned up the truck before Swaggart drove it back to a shed near the high school that was built just for the vehicle.
Contact Antonio Sierra at email@example.com or 541-966-0836.