Jacksonville Meals Truck prepares sizzling meals for the homeless

Every Tuesday and Saturday, Jacksonville chef Geoffrey Simpson applies his culinary talents to donated food that would otherwise be wasted.

Geoffrey Simpson, who works in the food industry, has seen how much more edible food is thrown away by restaurants, grocers, and other grocery vendors because the sell-by date is near or because it doesn’t look perfect. He also sees homeless people in need of hot meals. So he combined the good with the need via his non-profit hippie-que food truck.

Every Tuesday and Saturday, Jacksonville chef Geoffrey Simpson applies his culinary talents to donated food that would otherwise be wasted.

In an 8 by 14 foot food truck called Hippie Que, he does magic.

His homeless customers expect a burger or peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

But the hot meal they get for free could be chicken fajitas with red cabbage coleslaw, smoked brisket, or Philly cheese steak. Fried dumplings with apple sauce and flour batter or sloppy joes on brioche buns.

You deserve the best that he can do with the ingredients available, Simpson said.

“That’s someone’s brother, son, father, daughter,” he said.

Simpson, 33, has been a full-time chef for Bono’s Pit Bar-BQ for 15 years. He’s never been to cooking school, but he’s familiarized himself with food.

He’s worked in the food industry and has seen how much food is thrown away by restaurants, grocers, and other grocery vendors because the sell-by date is near or because it doesn’t look perfect. But it’s still safe for consumption.

“Everything is still good food,” he said. “It blew me away. … so much waste. “

He’s also seen homeless people in the city – one who lives in a tree – who he suspected could use a hot meal.

So Simpson fixed an old truck and restaurant equipment that he collected in his back yard, got the necessary permits, and started a nonprofit called Hippie-Que Food Truck. Twice a week on his non-working days he gets food and drinks from restaurants, grocers and grocery sellers or from organizations like Waste Not Want Not in Orange Park, which collect and distribute such “rescued” food.

Based on these different daily supplies, he puts together a menu for up to 50 people.

“I only make food as I go,” he said. “Whatever I get, I take and I use it again.”

Then Simpson drives his truck to places where the homeless congregate. A line quickly forms at the truck’s order window and it hands over hot meals and drinks.

Some of his customers are surprised when they see they are getting more than soup and a sandwich.

“These people were so happy. … to get something else to eat, ”he said. “They say, ‘Thank you, God bless you, you are amazing.’ I’ll tell you the same thing back. “

The food truck’s name – Hippie-Que – came from hearing the Grateful Dead when he thought about the idea, combined with the roots of his Bono Pit Bar-BQ.

Josh Martino, president of Bono, said he was a proud boss.

“I’ve known Geoffrey for a long time. He’s one of our most loyal and hardworking employees, ”he said.

Bono’s has a philanthropic component – including when fundraisers take place in its restaurants, the company donates 15 percent of every bill to the cause – but Simpson developed and developed his food truck idea himself. He is a “shining example” for others, said Martino.

“We don’t take credit for it. … He took that to heart, “he said.” He’s like a Swiss Army Knife. He can do anything. “

In September, Simpson took part in Hippie-Que’s Block by Block Food Insecurity Challenge, a statewide competition that seeks innovative ideas for tackling food insecurity in Florida. The challenge was sponsored by GuideWell, Florida Blue’s parent company.

He did not win any of the three $ 2,000 semi-finalists at the Northeast Florida regional event, but the judges were impressed with a fourth prize of $ 2,000 for community service.

“Geoffrey’s commitment and passion for reducing hunger in the Jacksonville homeless population was felt by everyone in the room,” said Kirstie McCool, executive director of GuideWell Innovation. “It humbled me to learn about his daily routine of driving his truck to take in excess groceries and then creatively using what he took to cook hot meals for those in need. Geoffrey is a special person and he really makes a difference in the Jacksonville community. “

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