For the second consecutive Friday, Sarah Moore of Adamsville took her kids on a trip at lunchtime.
It was Food Truck Friday at New Beginnings Church of God in West Mead Township and the Moores were camped out in the corner of the church’s sizable parking lot, enjoying some fresh squeezed lemonade while relaxing in the chairs they had brought with them. This week, they were joined by friend Julie Wilson of Meadville and her kids.
“It gives us something to do that’s still within social distancing parameters,” Moore said. “It’s just nice to get outside and let the kids do something that doesn’t involve going into a store or something.”
“And to support local businesses,” Wilson added.
Several local businesses have taken up New Beginnings on the offer to use the church’s parking lot during lunchtimes the past few Fridays. This week, Joe Hassinger’s Cowboy Kettle Korn tent was once again joined by the Cluck Truck and Ron’s Fresh Lemonade food trucks. The church is one of several organizations in the area that has allowed food trucks to park in their large parking lots in recent weeks as the county has reopened following the COVID-19 shutdown.
For Hassinger, use of the parking lot was a welcome opportunity.
“This is what I do for a living,” Hassinger said from behind an arrangement of golden popcorn ranging in sizes from L’l Dogie ($4), Steer ($6), Bull ($8) and The Whole Darn Herd ($14).
“All the festivals have been canceled,” Hassinger added. “I’m out here reinventing myself.”
Normally, Hassinger would have a packed schedule of outdoor events for the summer, including one of the biggest — the Crawford County Fair, where he has popped corn for 23 years. This year, in fact, was his first in charge of coordinating concessions for the event.
Because he attended Fair Board meetings as part of the preparation, he said he could see the cancellation coming, but that didn’t prevent it from being a disappointment.
“It was one of the toughest decisions I’ve ever seen,” Hassinger said, “but it was the only decision, really, that could have been made at the time.”
Now, vendors like Hassinger are left to adapt as best they can. Evidence of such efforts could be seen in the gallon-sized jug of hand sanitizer gel on the table at the front of Hassinger’s tent and the sign next to it that read, “Keep 6’ apart.”
Cliff Forbes, lead pastor at New Beginnings, has been among the people bringing their families to the Food Truck Friday events.
“We tried to hit all of them,” he said of the vendors. “We’ve definitely seen people excited for these kinds of opportunities.”
The decision to open the parking lot to food trucks was an opportunity to support and be involved with the community, according to Forbes.
“With so many events being canceled, that was something we heard from our parishioners,” he said. “We just thought, how can we provide space here that would try to meet some of that need?”
The appeal of doing so had a great deal to do with the church’s relationship with the annual fair that takes place less than a half-mile down Leslie Road from the church’s front door. Since before Forbes arrived at the church 17 years ago, New Beginnings has been hosting the church service that takes place in the Youth Show Arena on the second day of the fair. The service draws well over 1,000 participants who belong to churches all over the county.
“That for us was a big hit, realizing those traditions are going to be missed out on,” Forbes said. Food Truck Friday may not make up for those lost experiences, he added, but it is a way to offer an alternative opportunity.
The chance to offer such opportunities to both vendors and aficionados of vehicular-borne food preparation proved appealing to officials at Meadville Medical Center’s Vernon Place facility and at Palmiero Toyota.
Palmiero has seen visits from the Donutology food truck, which offered chocolate raspberry, apple cider and other gourmet variations on the familiar treat, according to Business Development Manager Carrie O’Shurak, and could be seeing visits from others as well.
Vernon Place can handle two vendors from Friday to Sunday for the time being, according to Brian MacMurray, vice president of ancillary services. Interested vendors are welcome to contact him about setting up in the parking lot, he said.
“We’re trying to do our small part to support the local community,” MacMurray said, pointing out that many vendors, like Hassinger, have had their entire seasons canceled. “It just seemed like the right thing to do.”
Randolph Volunteer Fire Department is jumping on the bandwagon — or food truck wagon? — as well, with plans for a Food Truck Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. June 27. With the fundraising events of many departments affected by the COVID-19 shutdown, the event’s $2 entry donation will offer a chance to make up for lost opportunities.
Mike Crowley can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.