The Mighty Bird sandwich has taken the notion of the after-school snack to a whole new level.
That was the consensus of a group of eager youngsters who headed straight for the Mighty Spork Food Truck parked at Peace Lutheran Church after the final school bell rang Monday afternoon.
Chef Rick Hilles was ready for them. As he expertly wielded fry pans and swiftly assembled nutritious hot chicken wraps for a hungry horde, he explained that the idea for the truck was born during the COVID-19 pandemic as an innovative way to continue serving the community safely.
“This is the whole purpose of being here,” he said, motioning to a group of about a dozen kids and adults who were placing orders at the truck’s window.
“We could do more of this,” he added. “We just need to be sure we’re in the right spot.”
For now, assuming the service generates enough interest, Hilles and volunteers plan to be at the church parking lot on Jackrabbit between 3 and 7 every Monday. Peace Lutheran is also Belgrade’s grocery pick-up point for the Gallatin Valley Food Bank, which distributes food at the church between 5-6 p.m. on the first and third Mondays of each month.
“Folks will be able to get a hot meal to go when they stop by to pick up their groceries,” Hilles said. “We welcome the chance to make life a little easier for our customers.”
The Mighty Spork Food Truck is part of HRDC’s answer to the COVID-19 pandemic, extending the mission of the pay-what-you-can Fork & Spoon restaurant in Bozeman, which has been providing nutritious, gourmet meals to patrons for several years. The truck has been up and running since June and became a familiar sight around the valley this summer as it traveled from community to community, including regularly to the Splash Park at Belgrade’s Lewis and Clark Park.
Everyone is invited to take advantage of the Mighty Spork’s fine fare according to their ability to pay. Some patrons pay a little more than the suggested menu price to “pay it forward” for someone else; others pay nothing at all.
Operating under what he calls the “Robin Hood” model, Hilles said the Mighty Spork made regular trips to the Farmers Market in Big Sky over the summer to make extra money for the truck’s operation.
In addition to providing nourishment for their bodies, Hilles said the “pay-it-forward” concept helps teach young people about generosity at an early age.
“Kids get a lot of messaging in school, but here it is being modeled for them,” he said. “This is how people get started being philanthropic.”
Hilles, the Fork & Spoon program manager, said HRDC intends to continue to take the truck out over the winter, weather permitting. The vehicle is insulated, but very cold temperatures may inhibit propane flow.
“We will run it as much as we can,” Hilles said. “We felt like it didn’t make sense to use it only four or five months of the year.”
More volunteers are needed to keep the truck up and running. As employers in the service industry have discovered, willing workers are hard to come by right now, Hilles said.
Penny Johnson, HRDC’s communications manager, volunteered for Monday’s shift, but Hilles said lack of manpower is an issue.
“When we’re busy, we usually do this with three people, but we can’t get enough volunteers,” he said.