Carla Waniandy (left) and her daughter, Trisha (right), give a man resting in the breezeway on Penticton’s Main St. some hot soup and a sandwich. The pair try to go out a few nights a week, operating the Ooknakane Friendship Centre’s food truck for the vulnerable. Jordyn Thomson/Western News

Penticton rallies behind food truck for the vulnerable

Multiple community organizations and businesses donate to Ooknakane Friendship Centre’s food truck

Carla Waniandy is putting her culinary background to use in a slightly non-traditional sense, but she wouldn’t have it any other way.

The Penticton woman, who has 20 years experience in the culinary industry and professional culinary training, was hired by the Ooknakane Friendship Centre in September 2018 as a vulnerable outreach worker. Through the centre, and with the help of multiple generous organizations and businesses, Waniandy is the face behind Penticton’s food truck for the vulnerable.

“I was working at Save-On-Foods before this as a cashier, but before that I was in the culinary industry,” said Waniandy. “When I saw this position being advertised it sounded like the perfect fit. I’m loving that I’m able to help people.”

Related: Penticton Save-On-Foods partners with food bank for zero waste

Penticton and the greater Okanagan are currently facing lack of housing options and an increase in homelessness. The food truck, donated to the centre by Chris Grauer, aims to serve this vulnerable sector, as well as seniors and those that may not be homeless but are still facing poverty.

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“Everything I make from scratch, like the soups I make, are all from scratch. And anything I have left over, I freeze in individual packets to give out in hampers. It’s not just the homeless. If someone comes to the centre and says they have no food, I will give them a hamper,” said Waniandy.

Waniandy said Grauer is very committed to helping with this program, often bringing the centre eggs and other grocery items she needs. He is heavily involved with the Soupateria, which also donates food items to help this program run.

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Waniandy’s daily routine begins with prepping breakfast at the centre for anyone who wishes to stop by. She said often the same people that access the winter shelter on Main St. will head to the centre for breakfast, located at 146 Ellis St., so she aims to have it ready for them from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m.

Related: Penticton food bank holiday hampers go to those in need

Waniandy prides herself on making everything she can from scratch for the centre’s food truck. What she has leftover will be frozen individually and distributed in hampers from the centre for anyone who needs them. Jordyn Thomson/Western News

After breakfast, Waniandy sets out prepping what she’ll be serving in the evening on the food truck. So far she’s been able to prepare soups from scratch, burgers, sandwiches, hot chocolate and more.

While she does not hit the streets every night, that is a goal she is working towards.

“I’m not only running this program, I’m doing all the shopping for the other stuff we run out of the centre,” said Waniandy. “We have family night dinners, elders luncheons and special events so I have to help shop and cook for that. It means I’m quite busy.”

Aside from the Soupateria and Grauer, the centre receives much of its food donations from other community organizations and businesses like the Salvation Army Food Bank, COBS Bread Bakery and Unity House. Because of Penticton Save-On-Food’s new zero food waste initiative, the centre has access to fresh produce, dairy and meats through the food bank.

The centre is also equipped with two large freezers, meaning they can freeze anything they are not able to serve right away. The food truck does not have the capability to cook food but can keep whatever Waniandy prepares in the centre’s kitchen warm while she drives the streets looking for anyone who may need a hot, home-cooked meal.

“It’s awesome, I tested the truck out by doing burgers the first night and they stayed hot in the warmer all night like they were just off the grill,” said Waniandy. “That makes it a lot easier so I don’t have to make stops at the centre to reheat food or grab food there.”

Waniandy and her 19-year-old daughter, Trisha, load up in the afternoon at about 3:30 p.m. and will drive around for a few hours, circling common streets in the downtown where those who are homeless may be seeking shelter. She said many of their clients have come to recognize them and the truck, so they will at times flag them down if they see them driving.

“Me and my daughter — or my son if he’s not working — we’ll just drive around and look for them. I need someone to come with me because I’m not allowed to go out by myself,” said Waniandy. “I don’t always know where they’re going to be, but there are a few spots we will check when we make our rounds.”

Aside from ensuring this vulnerable sector has a hearty meal, Waniandy has noticed a change in their overall mood since she began running the centre’s program. This program also works to build trust with those who are hesitant to seek help from community services.

Related: Revellers ring in the New Year at first Okanagan Hunger Dip

“I noticed their attitude is now totally different than when I first started. When I first started I had to build up their trust,” said Waniandy. “Now they don’t fight, they don’t argue. When I first started someone was always fighting or yelling and the food really helps them. Like when I’m hungry, I get angry — so I can see them being hungry and just getting angry at each other.

“Now they get along, they clean up after themselves and they appreciate the food.”

Waniandy chooses to not wear a traditional chef’s attire when she operates the food truck, stating that she wants those who access it to view her as an equal rather than a superior. This is just one way she has been establishing trust with a sector that can often be hesitant to accept help. Jordyn Thomson/Western News

Waniandy said she is always looking for donations and volunteers, no cooking experience needed. She has noticed the positive effect volunteering has had for her daughter, who was at first hesitant.

“I asked my daughter the first day, ‘How was that for you?’ and she said scary. She’s not used to seeing these people in this way,” said Waniandy. “So I told her, ‘If that was you sleeping outside and you were hungry and cold, wouldn’t you be appreciative if someone brought you a hot soup, sandwich and hot chocolate?’ and she agreed. Now she doesn’t look at them like a negative, she looks at them like a person.”

“A lot of people that we’ve been helping, they’re not drug addicts or alcoholics. They are homeless because they can’t afford rent. There was one young girl out there that looked the same age as my daughter,” said Waniandy. “When I told her about the help we can give her at the centre, she told me she had to be at work for 6:30 a.m. so she is working, but she is homeless. I was almost crying when she was telling me this.”

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