Nearly one-third of households in Washington reported they were food insecure in 2021, according to the Washington State Food Security Survey. Hunger relief organization such as NorthWest Share work to address this ongoing issue.
Harry Terhanian, founder of NorthWest Share, recently sat down with the Local Food Initiative team to discuss how food trucks serving free meals came about, and the importance of providing free vegetarian meals via food trucks.
“I wanted to help people that may be going through the same situation that I did,” said Harry, as he reflected what motivated him to provide free vegetarian meals.
It all started for Harry when he was studying abroad in France and struggling to pay for nutritious food. At times he would wait for the farmers market to close and see what food was thrown out that he could have. He said after this experience he had an epiphany: He realized eating a plant-based diet made him feel healthier, and he wanted to help others who were experiencing food insecurity by increasing access to healthy and nutritious vegetarian meals.
This experience motivated Harry to found NorthWest Share in 1998 and provide vegetarian meals at no cost through the volunteer-run restaurant, My Sweet Lord. Located in University District, the restaurant fed up to 5,000 people a year until closing in 2015.
Despite the closure, Harry and other volunteers were committed to feeding people in the Seattle area. This prompted them to think more critically about who they wanted to reach through their free vegetarian meals and how to best reach them. With this is mind, they purchased a food truck in 2018.
“With a restaurant, people have to come to you, but not everyone can come to you,” said Harry. “So we have the mobility now – we can go to Tacoma, Everett, Ballard. So, it’s more adapted to going where people are.”
In 2018, they were able to station their food truck at University Heights Center and use ingredients from their Goloka Farm to ensure meals had quality ingredients and were served to the people who needed it the most. Their meals consist of curries, homemade flatbread, fresh fruit, and herbal tea.
“We have balanced meals with proteins and carbohydrates,” said Harry. “And it’s always fresh food, we never serve leftovers.”
Prior to the pandemic NorthWest Share was able to feed up to 180 people a day four times a week.
With the new addition of a second food truck, they have been able to add more locations and availability, all together reaching more people. Through October 2021, they served 62,335 meals to people in locations such as Seattle, Tacoma, Bellevue, Redmond and Shoreline.
More recently, NorthWest Share purchased a third food truck that will serve fresh juice and snacks. The goal with this truck is the same as the other two: increase access to healthy and nutritious foods.
“The cost of living is going up so a lot of people are going to be in [financial] trouble, they have to decide whether they pay their rent or their car or food,” Harry said. “So that’s why we’re ramping up now and we’re going to do things that really give people hope.”
This new addition won’t be the last of the trucks NorthWest Share hopes to own: To reach more people they hope to have 10 to 15 trucks within the next few years.
Each new truck requires more volunteers to help with the upkeep, and as a volunteer-led organization, NorthWest Share is always looking for people to support via donations of fresh produce or money, or volunteering, which can include preparing meals, planning food truck logistics, repairing the truck, and more.
Learn more about NorthWest Share food truck schedule and ways to get involved at nwshare.org/free-food-truck/.