Some people start charities because they’ve been personally affected by an issue, or because they can see a need that isn’t being met. But for Natalie Fallis, Manager of Applicants Services in UBC Enrolment Services, it all started with a truck. Specifically, a 1983 Grumman delivery truck purchased for $6,000 in the spring of 2014 by her sister, Naudia Mâché.
“My sister called me and said, ‘I bought this old truck!’” Natalie recalls with a laugh. “I’m like, ‘Okay, that’s nice. What do you want to do with that?’” It turns out, Naudia was hoping to load family and friends into the truck and use it to deliver soup throughout Vancouver during the holidays.
No strangers to volunteering and serving on non-profit boards, the spirit of this plan was in keeping with the sisters’ lifelong work in the charitable sector—but while both were devoted foodies, neither had any real food-truck experience (apart from being avid customers). As Natalie began to research how and where the truck might make its inaugural journeys, she discovered the need was bigger than she had ever imagined. Soon, what had started as a vision for a seasonal, fun hobby quickly morphed into something bigger.
“I learned that one in six people in Canada live with food insecurity and that there is a high poverty rate in B.C., where we have the highest rate of working poor in the country. The United Way reported 100,000 in Metro Vancouver in 2016,” Natalie explains. “So, I went back to my sister, and said, ‘Why don’t we just make it like a real charity, and we can do it once a month?’”
Natalie, recently widowed, was living in Victoria with her 13-year-old son at the time, working in the Registrar’s Office at the University of Victoria. Naudia urged her to move back to her hometown of Vancouver, and help establish what was to become The Good Soup Truck Society—Vancouver’s first and only independent mobile soup kitchen.
I learned that one in six people in Canada live with food insecurity and that there is a high poverty rate in B.C., where we have the highest rate of working poor in the country.Natalie Fallis
“I was trying to look for some meaning, and my sister kind of intuited that,” says Natalie, who has since remarried. “She said, ‘Why don’t you come back and do this? You’re so good at building things and getting people excited about things.’ So that’s kind of how it all took off.”
It wasn’t long before Natalie was living in Vancouver and helping The Good Soup Truck become a registered charity. In December 2014, after $15,000 in retrofits and a snazzy paint job featuring bold, colourful vegetables, the truck made its inaugural soup delivery run to the Ray-Cam Co-operative Centre on the edge of Vancouver’s Downtown East Side, loaded with enough soup from local producers, such as Liquids and Solids, to fill over 200 bowls.
“I remember that people asked us, ‘Is this free? Why are you giving this for free? Who’s funding this?’” Natalie says. “People were really suspicious at first. We just had to be friendly and keep smiling, and saying, ‘Yep, we’re just giving it for free.’”
Since that day, The Good Soup Truck has continued pulling up to the Ray-Cam Co-operative Centre every week from October to June—and, as Natalie and her sister began researching, they started to add more locations, including the Strathcona Community Centre, a spot on Keefer Street near a B.C Housing complex, and a spot near the Thunderbird Community Centre.
Nowadays, volunteers on the truck ladle out about 500 bowls of soup every week, and Natalie says they are rarely at a loss for help. “We sometimes don’t even have enough space for all the volunteers who want to work on the truck,” she says, proudly. “Now the only time I go is when I save myself a spot so I can go on the truck. It’s a lot of fun. We play fun music, and we’re always chatting with the people we’re serving, and they’re always sweet and kind.”
What sets The Good Food truck apart from some of the other charities delivering free food, notes Natalie, is its lack of affiliation to any larger organization‑and the fact that it is supported solely by local private citizens and business donations. “There are other soup kitchens, but they’re often associated with religious organizations,” she points out. “What makes us unique is that we have no affiliation. Really, our affiliation is that we love Vancouver and we want to give back to the city and somehow make it better.”
With more than 540 volunteer hours racked up, along with 14,100 bowls of soup served annually (and counting), it’s clear that Natalie and her sister have definitely accomplished that goal.
What makes us unique is that we have no affiliation. Really, our affiliation is that we love Vancouver and we want to give back to the city and somehow make it better.Natalie Fallis