Chef Willy Fontanez was having an off day when he spotted a “rough-looking” person passing by his food truck, La Gumbo Ya Ya, which was parked in a downtown Oklahoma neighborhood.
“Good morning!” Willy called out to him. “Have you eaten lunch yet?”
The answer was no– so Fontanez asked him what he wanted.
“I was just thinking about having to throw away so much food when someone was in front of me that was hungry,” Fontanez told Good News Network.
Since that day in July, 2013, hundreds of folks in need have received thousands of free meals from La Gumbo Ya Ya. No matter where Fontanez and his wife, Rachel, park their big purple truck, it is recognized as a safe place to ask for a meal.
“They can order anything on the menu–gumbo, Po’ Boys or any of our other Puerto Rican specialties–and get a drink, like any other customer,” Fontanez said. “Sometimes they only have a few coins but they want to pay, so we take it… It’s about giving them dignity and a smile.”
Fontanez, who has served in the U.S. Army and as a youth minister, has dedicated his life to being of service to others. His grandparents, who hailed from Puerto Rico, always held gatherings where food was of the utmost importance, and they always kept their home open to those who needed a meal or a place to stay.
“I started a food truck because it was less expensive than starting a restaurant. I never knew how exciting and humbling this journey would be,” Fontanez said. “It’s sad that more restaurants don’t give food away. There is a lot of waste there.”
As for whether or not folks may take unfair advantage, Willy isn’t concerned in the least.
“We can’t control others and what they do, all we can do is love. You gave a blessing to someone, and their choices don’t take away our love,” he said.
Other food trucks in Oklahoma do similar things, so the folks at La Gumbo Ya Ya are in the process of forming an alliance of food trucks that offer free meals to those in need, no strings attached.
As for Fontanez, he hopes to have a second truck on the streets by this fall, but needs to raise about $20,000 to do that.
“Even when we have a low sales day, if we can give a few meals away, I’m happy with that,” he said. “I take that positive feeling home to my family.”
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