UNIVERSITY HEIGHTS, Ohio — Students at John Carroll University have launched a food truck business that will not only teach them all aspects of running a business, but that will also serve the homeless in need of food.
The school’s Center for Service and Social Action(CSSA) started the program in the spring after receiving a major donation from a JCU alum to purchase a truck. The CSSA provides a wide array of high-impact experiential learning opportunities that connect the campus to the community through service-learning, community-engaged research, and civic engagement.
Fifty students from two entrepreneurship classes have begun, while working as part of teams, to finalize the truck’s menu and pricing, create all point-of-sale marketing, and to define the guest experience. Students are also gathering information as to the best places to set up shop on weekdays in order to maximize business for full-pay lunches, and where they can best serve the homeless on select evenings and weekends in providing no-cost hot meals.
“It’s a dynamic learning experience,” said CSSA Director Sister Katherine Feely of the food truck program. “It gets students not only thinking creatively and constructively, but applying what they’re learning in the classroom. A lot of the work we (CSSA) do in the community is collaborative in nature, so this is just taking that to the next level.”
Feely said that the food truck project marks the first time CSSA students have created a start-up business. She worked with Doan Winkel, director of the Muldoon Center for Entrepreneurship at JCU, to integrate the effort into the school’s Boler College of Business.
“We didn’t come to the students with a plan,” said Winkel. “We wanted this to be their project from start to finish, giving them experience with every step of the process needed to bring a business idea to life.”
“They’re using this semester,” Feely said, “to get their business plan to the finish line. In the spring semester, they’ll actually takes those plans and operationalize them.”
Of his experience, social entrepreneurship student Jack Heller said, “I’m having to visualize how to start a business from scratch — the operations, the marketing, and the financials. Everything about being an entrepreneur is jam-packed into this food truck project.”
For a food truck to be successful, of course, it must have good food. Feely said that the students are examining the possibility of partnering with one or a couple of culinary training programs. Several programs are being considered, including Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry, which trains trains women now in correctional facilities but who soon will be leaving those facilities, and EDWINS Leadership & Restaurant, which also trains in the culinary arts to those who have served time in correctional facilities.
“We’re connecting several creative dots in forming this collaboration, in working with our students and working with our (community) partners,” Feely said. “Collaboration is the key to life.”
Speaking about the project’s help to the homeless, Feely said, “The John Carroll students have been working with the homeless for many years now through a project called the Labre Project. They have longstanding relationships with people experiencing homelessness.
“What’s unique about this is that those who are homeless will have the opportunity to order off the menu just like any customer orders off the menu. It can be personalized to their tastes and their preferences, which is something that doesn’t always happen for them. So it’s a unique way to bring dignity and respect to those who are homeless.
“The goal is, students have to make the daytime business sufficiently profitable to cover the costs for those who are homeless. So the for-profit will cover the nonprofit.”
Feely said that if the business students do their work well, there will be profits after the costs to feed the homeless are paid, and that that profit could then be used to invest back into the food truck business.
“One of the key aspects of this project is it’s really a way for our students to discover the power of experiential learning, and the impact that it has for the community” Feely said. “That’s part of what this is all about, at the heart of it. Education is not always for themselves, although it’s certainly that, but it’s for the entire community. So how do they bring learning to life, and how do they bring life to their learning? That’s part of what this is, it’s a really dynamic, innovative, out-of-the-box learning opportunity to help students apply knowledge while developing skills for life.”
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