July 17, 2018 | ° F

SouperVan provides food, work through social enterprise

Photo by Courtesy of Dominick Rodriguez |

Students line up outside of the SouperVan on Douglass campus. The mobile vendor offers healthy soups and sandwiches, and for every meal purchased, one meal is donated to Elijah’s Promise Soup Kitchen.

Usually stationed on Douglass campus, the SouperVan is trying to solve the world’s hunger problems one cup of soup at a time.

The charity-driven truck has partnered with Elijah’s Promise, a New Brunswick-based soup kitchen, to provide a meal for the hungry with every purchase made, said Nicholas Kubian, co-fou nder of the SouperVan.

“We’re trying to create an example for a solution that allows people to eat healthier and simultaneously feed someone else while doing so,” he said.

Chris Retzko, program manager for Rutgers Against Hunger, said the initiative began last year in an attempt to alleviate the hunger problem in New Jersey, citing that 1 in 5 Americans struggle to put food on the table.

But the original plans for the truck stretch back to 2009, when the owners of the SouperVan approached RAH to formulate the project, Retzko said.

“It was a great idea, and we started moving forward with it,” he said. “They went through a number of possibilities to make the van a reality, and we took care of the logistics.”

Dominick Rodriguez, co-founder of the SouperVan, said RAH was critical in the development of the business and helped spread SouperVan’s publicity throughout the University.

“They created this for us so this thing could really be tested and come to life,” said Rodriguez, who worked as an architect before he helped create the SouperVan. “That’s very important. It’s all about synergy and helping each other out with some community work.”

Lisanne Finston, executive director at Elijah’s Promise, said charitable enterprises are needed now more than ever with the recession making the hunger problem even worse.

“The recession created a huge escalation in the amount of need,” she said. “Over the last three to four years since the recession began, we’ve seen the percentage of people in need of food increase roughly from 8 to 9 percent to now 13 to 14 percent.”

Finston said Elijah’s Promise helped alleviate the situation last year when they used $5,000 to provide 10,000 meals to the homeless, but she said more work needs to be done.

“The challenge is enormous and the need is great, so there’s really never been a greater time for a project like this to be on the road,” she said.

Kubian said the SouperVan is a test model for the self-sustainability of charitable organizations.

“You can’t really end hunger, because every day you wake up, and if you’re alive, you’re going to be hungry,” he said. “We need to create perpetual solutions to perpetual problems. We’re trying to create an example for a solution.”

He said the cause depends on the United States taking on a leadership role in fighting against world hunger.

“New Jersey is the second wealthiest state in the most powerful empire on the planet,” he said. “If we can’t figure out hunger here, what chance does anybody else on earth have?”

Retzko said the SouperVan is committed to fixing the hunger problem through healthy means — starting with the food, which is prepared with steam instead of oil.

Supporting for local businesses is another benefit from this social enterprise, Kubian said. All ingredients are locally sourced, and the SouperVan donates excess materials to Cook campus farms.

“If we bought it somewhere else, we give the money to some distributor — and where does the money go?” he said. “But when we give it to the farm, we know where it goes. It is being cycled around the community and helps foster business here. It’s about knowing where the money goes.”

The menu at the SouperVan is meant to address an obesity problem that Kubian said should be focused on more.

“You think a fast-food burger chain cares about diabetes?” he said. “Six-thousand people die from heart disease a year, and what we’re worried about are terrorists. People aren’t paying attention to what the real dangers are.”

He said the employees at the SouperVan have been given a working opportunity that saves them from the risk of falling into poverty.

“They might not have graduated high school, they might have had a criminal record or come from a low-income community, but if you could give them a culinary background, they could provide for themselves,” Kubian said. “Now they have a livable wage.”

Rodriguez said he hopes the SouperVan will show citizens the power they have to influence the world around them, a goal that is a part of the SouperVan’s core mission.

“The positive aspect is being able to really help people empower themselves and show them that there’s a different way to work with one another,” Rodriguez said.

By Lisa Berkman

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