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Food Truck Festival to return to Lawrence, ‘bigger and better’

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The Kansas Food Truck Festival is returning to Lawrence this spring with global cuisine, live entertainment and an art market to help support Just Food, the Douglas County food bank.

Ryan Bowersox, outreach and marketing director for Just Food, said she couldn’t yet provide specific details on the entertainment or types of global cuisine that will be available because contracts with the food trucks and entertainers have not been finalized. However, she said the festival is going to be bigger than ever.

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“There’ll be lots of regional food trucks, I’ve no doubt about that. Our footprint of the festival will be double in size than it ever has been. We’re adding an art market to the Food Truck Festival, so there’ll be artists there as well,” she said.

The event will be from 4 to 9 p.m. Saturday, May 7, at the Warehouse Arts District (beginning at Ninth and Pennsylvania streets) in Lawrence. Tickets are $15 for people 13 and older and give you access to the festival and live entertainment, with proceeds benefiting Just Food. Anyone who attends will still have to pay separately to sample what the food trucks have to offer. Tickets are available at this link.

Bowersox also said they are working with Mike Logan from The Granada and The Bottleneck, and Jacki Becker from Up to Eleven Productions to “bring amazing entertainment” to the festival, and that they’re planning to have three stages.

Bowersox and the rest of the Just Food team are also quite excited about the festival’s return for another reason: it’s the food bank’s biggest fundraiser of the year, and they haven’t been able to hold one since 2019. 

“It was pretty devastating to cancel it not once, but twice during a time that we really needed it the most, but obviously the safety of our community absolutely came first,” she said. 

The funds from this festival go to Just Food’s general operations, such as purchasing food and making sure that it has consistent product on the shelves at all times — which, along with food, also includes other necessities like diapers and period products.

“It’s a huge deal for Just Food. We’ve had to (work) to make that up in the last couple of years, but we’re really excited to do something really fun,” Bowersox said. “We’re ready to get back out in the community and start talking to people about the work that we’re doing. We want to be back in that proactive mode instead of a reactive mode, and I think that the Food Truck Festival is a great start to that.”

There were more than 15,000 Douglas County residents facing food insecurity in 2019, according to data from Feeding America, but Bowersox said the Just Food team learned “very quickly through the pandemic that that ebbs and flows every day,” adding that COVID-19 has “really put a strain on families.”

Toward the end of 2021 and the beginning of 2022, Bowersox said Just Food was breaking its record for most people served every month. She said they used to serve between 150 to 200 families per day, but that number has risen to between 250 and 300 families per day — that equates to more than 1,000 individuals in the community, she said.

“And that’s just in our main pantry.” 

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The return of the Food Truck Festival will be a huge help to Just Food, she said, and part of that is because of the ticket price. 

“Our most frequent question is, ‘Why are tickets $15 and I still have to pay for food?’ So keep in mind that when you’re supporting the Food Truck Festival, not only are you supporting Just Food, but you’re also supporting an industry that has taken some of the hardest hits outside of health care,” she said.

She mentioned line cooks specifically being hurt by COVID. A 2021 study in California suggested that of essential workers, line cooks saw the highest increase in mortality during the beginning of the pandemic. 

 “When you come and pay that $15, that $15 goes to Just Food and our mission to alleviate hunger in our community and to serve every single person that comes to our doors. And then when you go and you are purchasing food from these small businesses, you’re supporting the food industry and those workers that we deemed essential for the last 20 months.” 

“It really does come full circle,” she continued. “It’s really hitting so many aspects of not just our food system, but also our community because sometimes those are the same people — the people who are having the small businesses and accessing food at Just Food. … It raises all of us up, and I think that we’re all ready to get out and try new food.”

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Emma Bascom (she/her), reporter, can be reached at ebascom (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here.

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