EAST VILLAGE — A food truck fit for the Midtown lunch crowd has started feeding the homeless and hungry in the East Village.
Soul Food Truck, a new initiative of Middle Collegiate Church on Second Avenue and East Seventh Street, serves savory free meals including fried chicken and collard greens to anyone who steps up to its window in Tompkins Square Park on Sunday afternoons.
"You are not only serving food, but also dignity and respect," said the Rev. Jacqui Lewis, 54, who has been at the helm of the church for 10 years. "Our goal is to balance nutrition with what tastes good."
Soul Food Truck started serving at least 100 hot meals from 1 to 2 p.m. each Sunday on East Seventh Street last month, and plans to continue through Palm Sunday on April 20. Recent menu offerings at the truck included vegetable chili and pancakes and turkey sausages.
"To get a hot meal on a cold day, that's something," said Belizaire Macary, 43, who stopped by Soul Food Truck on Sunday for a steaming bowl of chili. "I really appreciate what you are all doing," Macary told the church volunteers, adding that he's currently homeless and has been on the streets on and off since 1996.
The church said the truck, which belongs to a pair of church members who own and operate it as Brooklyn Born and sell South African food out of the truck in East New York during the week, has allowed it to expand its 25-year mission of giving groceries and other food to the homeless in Tompkins Square Park.
"It has four burners, a fridge, space for cutting and chopping, a cabinet for storage," Lewis said of the truck, which is staffed by a part-time chef who prepares a new menu each week, as well as a team of volunteers who hand out the food.
Soul Food Truck doesn't ask those who approach the truck to verify whether they're homeless or not, and doesn't turn anyone away, including Dorri Simon, a self-described "freegan" who avoids paying for food by reclaiming what's discarded.
"If I see it, I eat it," said Simon, who has lived in the East Village for 45 years.
On Sunday, Soul Food Truck also attracted some East Villagers who mistook it for an ordinary food truck.
"It looks like a fancy, chic food truck," said a 28-year-old lawyer who declined to give his name. He said he didn't realize the truck was for the needy until he stepped up to the window for a meal, and they offered it to him for free. He declined.
"I work at Grand Central and it would fit right in," he added, saying he appreciated that the food truck didn't stigmatize those it serves. "It's great."
For Middle Collegiate Church, which started meeting in 1628, the food truck and the church's other social justice programs are central to its mission.
"This is what we do we do — economic justice, racial justice and LGBTI justice," said Lewis, adding that the church conducted a triple same-sex wedding the Sunday after the Marriage Equality Act passed in New York State.
Lewis said the new Soul Food Truck project is as much about feeding people's stomachs as it is about feeding their souls.
"If that [evangelism] means sharing the good news — the good news here is there is a church in your neighborhood that thinks ministry is caring for people, standing in for justice, making sure everyone has enough," Lewis said.
"One of the things we think is really important is God's love is not contained within the four walls of the church."