A buzz of excitement spreads through the halls of Spruce Avenue School as Jessy Nerval rushes by. “Is it hot lunch day?” someone asks. And like the pied piper, students follow him to the gym.
The kids know the drill. Within 10 minutes, 15 tables and 150 chairs are set up. A queue stretches to reach the chickpeas in spicy gravy and basmati rice served by four volunteers. Today’s meal is donated by All India Restaurant and Sweets, one of a handful of contributors.
Seva Food Truck, organized two years ago by Nerval and a band of college-aged helpers, isn’t an actual truck. It’s a hot lunch delivered to three schools (Spruce Avenue, Calder and JD Bracco) where students are often hungry and even homeless. Education Minister David Eggen, aware of these challenges, thought that Seva would be a good fit.
Joanne Harle, Spruce Avenue School’s principal, is full of praise for the generosity and goodwill that flows from the initiative.
“I can’t imagine my own teenagers reaching out like that,” she said. “I’m just amazed at their dedication and skillful organization. At first they came weekly, but we had to reduce it to once a month because the gym class gets shortened to set up for the meal.”
Seva Food Truck uses healthy food to launch its goal of mentorship and positive role modeling for kids who might not get it at home. Nerval derives his inspiration from the Sikh principles of seva (selfless service) and langar (free meals served to all, regardless of class, race, religion, or other social divisions).
The idea of Seva came up in conversation with Nerval’s father one night after dinner. The first initiative was a summer food tent on 96 Street across from the Bissell Centre. By speaking to homeless adults, Nerval learned that problems often started in childhood. He decided to put Seva’s energy into prevention at a younger age. It’s clear this mentorship is ongoing when Harle shares troubling news about a student Nerval has mentored. “He could use some support right now. You’ve been such a good influence on him and he trusts you.”
To prepare for this role, volunteers take the mentor training program through Big Brothers and Sisters.
“I recently lost my job but I’m glad to have more time to work the lunch program,” said Tej Sangha, one of the 50 volunteers. “I’ve been doing this for two years and it’s very rewarding.”
Megan Haggerty, one of the school’s teachers, and Emily, a gregarious student in grade nine, sum up the feeling. “We’re super impressed with Seva—the food they bring is yummy.”
Plates, glasses and utensils get stuffed into a garbage can, and kids turn it into a game of how high the tower can be stacked before it topples. The tables and chairs are stacked and the gym empties. Within 45 minutes, there are 150 full tummies. Nice work, Seva!
Recipe: Spicy Chickpeas (Kulwant Grewal)
- 3 cups cooked chickpeas
- 1 onion, chopped
- 6 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
- 6 slices of ginger (1 inch diameter chunk of ginger), peeled and finely chopped
- ½ tbsp salt
- ½ tbsp turmeric
- ½ tbsp cayenne
- ½ tbsp ground cumin
- ½ tbsp kasoori or methi
- ½ tbsp spicy spaghetti seasoning
- ½ tbsp ground coriander
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 3 tbsp crushed tomato
- 1 can chicken broth
Fry onion in oil until brown, then add ginger and garlic.
Add all spices and mix well.
Add crushed tomato and chicken broth. Then, add cooked chickpeas and let simmer.
Serve on basmati rice.
- ⅓ bunch of cilantro, chopped
- 8 small potatoes, peeled and diced
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- Salt, to taste
- ½ red onion, finely chopped
Cook and mash ingredients together. Form into balls and then press into patties. Cook on medium heat with canola oil.
Feature Image: Seva Food Truck has been operating for two years. Credit: NeetNiz Photography