Chris Kilcullen and Mark Sunderhuse founded the nonprofit food truck Kitchen One for One to create a connection point to pass on sustenance both as food and as goodwill. The three-year-old endeavor recently started a new program called Taco Nights as a way for people to enjoy meals while helping give food to those in need. “We wanted to go out and love people,” Kilcullen says. “We wanted to do it in a way that was non-threatening, meeting people right where they are — no pretension, no requirements.”
Taco Nights work like this: Kitchen One for One volunteers set up the taco truck to sell meals to those who can afford to pay, and then Kilcullen and Sunderhuse use those funds to provide tacos to community members struggling with food insecurity. The new program is an adaptation of their old food truck model that caters specifically to the safety and social distancing realities of COVID-19 while also responding to increased demand. Their first Taco Night in Denver is Thursday, February 18; Kitchen One for One will be parked at St. Francis Day Center, 2323 Curtis Street, from 4 to 6 p.m.
Kilcullen and Sunderhuse started the Kitchen One for One food truck in December 2017. “Our goal was always [to bring] restaurant-quality food to our neighbors in need. We didn’t want to do rice and beans or leftovers from the night before. They’re intentional, made-from-scratch meals,” Kilcullen says.
Kitchen One for One offers a rotating taco menu of slow-roasted carnitas, carne asada, green chile chicken and vegetarian options, along with toppings such as salsa verde, salsa rojo, queso fresco, lime wedges and a mango garnish. Additionally, guests can include sides of queso mac n’ cheese and a fire-roasted corn and black bean salad.
Traditionally, the volunteer team would park the truck at locations such as the Denver Rescue Mission and St. Francis Day Center on Saturdays to serve unhoused individuals. But at the beginning of the pandemic, they had to stop using the truck because of safety concerns. Instead, they switched to preparing family-sized meals for the Denver Dream Center, an organization that, among other programs, delivers food and supplies to section 8 housing, Kilcullen explains. During the height of lockdown, Kitchen One for One was making 3,500 meals per week. And it continues to provide an average of 100 to 120 family-sized or six-person meals for the organization, he adds.
Overall, Kitchen One for One increased its production by 250 percent last year, going from serving 30,000 meals in 2019 to 105,000 meals in 2020, Kilcullen continues. Initially, the nonprofit was able to meet higher demand because of donated produce from Shamrock Foods Distribution & Food Supply. During lockdown, the distributor was unable to sell all its food products to its restaurant accounts (many of which were shut down), and turned to nonprofits to make sure the food would be distributed. Eventually, however, the donations stopped and Kitchen One for One began to purchase all the ingredients needed to continue to meet increased demand. Through Taco Nights, the founders hope to fund their expanded reach while continuing to serve those experiencing homelessness.
“We suggest $10 per plate, but people can pay anything they want or feel compelled to donate. We’ve had people donate $2 or $2,000,” Kilcullen says. People can also choose to pay nothing at all. Dignity is central to Kitchen One for One’s philosophy. Everyone goes through the line with equality whether they can pay or not, and the funds from one person help feed another. Kilcullen hopes it’s a system that empowers people to help each other.
Kilcullen places value in being able to directly support people who are in a more vulnerable place. He says the teens without permanent housing at Sox Place have particularly inspired him to make a difference through the simple action of giving food. Mostly, it’s validation along with the meal. “We want to look people in the eyeballs and tell them they’re needed, wanted and known. So often people are just part of the crowd, and we’re trying to go beyond that,” he adds.
So far, Taco Nights have been hosted by Bergen Park Church in Evergreen and One City Church in Denver. But Kilcullen says he's talking with six to eight more churches. The expansion would guarantee that the program could run four nights a week.
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