Cheese and Thank You

Richie Olapade prepares a serving of mac ‘n cheese in the Cheese and Thank You food truck. The food truck provides young adults with developmental abilities the opportunity to learn about the food service industry through a one-year program. (Photo/Jaclyn Ferguson)

Indianapolis nonprofit New Hope of Indiana has been around for 40 years and provides services for people with developmental disabilities. This year, the organization is providing an unconventional yet useful service— a food truck.

The food truck, Cheese and Thank You, not only provides delicious mac ‘n cheese topped with a variety of foods such as bacon, pulled pork, and buffalo chicken that fills up your stomach and makes your taste buds dance, it also provides people with developmental disabilities the chance to learn about the service industry, sales and business. 

“The food truck is a great example of how everybody can do these jobs and participate in the community,” CEO Allison Wharry said.    

Wharry said the truck is believed to be the only one in the Midwest that teaches culinary skills such as cooking and serving food while learning what it takes to run a food business.

“These guys do it all,” she said. 

The food truck is operated through a one-year program for young adults to learn and grow as professionals and individuals. Once the program is over, they can decide if it is a job they can see themselves doing long term. 

Then, New Hope of Indiana can assist the young adults in potential career opportunities and future education. 

Wharry compared the program to an internship.

The idea for the food truck first came up three years ago. Director of Community Outreach Kathy Ballard said since then there was a lot of fundraising and thinking through logistics such as licensing the food truck. 

“It’s turned into an actual living thing which is very cool,” Ballard said. 

Ballard hopes the program participants to leave with a sense of belonging. 

Twenty-four-year old Richie Olapade said he has a lot of fun working on the food truck — especially learning about how to be the cashier. 

“It is a good opportunity for people with disabilities to show that we are good workers in the community,” he said. 

Olapade plans to help his mom in the restaurant business if she decides to open one. He said he would like to use what he learns from the food truck program to help him be successful with the restaurant. 

Wharry said one of the biggest goals of the food truck is to create an opportunity to make Indianapolis more inclusive. 

According to Wharry people with disabilities have twice the unemployment rate as people without disabilities. People with disabilities can be great workers, and New Hope of Indiana wants to showcase that to the community through the food truck. 

Program leader Tim Dunkel said the community has been welcoming and supportive of the food truck. 

“I think we are all kind of overwhelmed of the response we got from the opening,” he said. 

More mac ‘n cheese, please!

For Cheese and Thank You food truck dates, times and locations, check their website, cheeseandthankyou.org.

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