By Allison Lindsey
Food. Festivities. Fun. Martha Bowman United Methodist Church packs all of these into one at their annual Food Truck Fest, which according to organizers is one of the church’s favorite days of the year.
Food trucks have existed for decades but have become even more popular over the last several years offering food truck owners an opportunity to share unique foods with a larger audience of people and take their food and hospitality literally - on the road.
Martha Bowman United Methodist Church, located in Macon, Ga., leaned into this popularity back in 2015 when their Food Truck Festival idea sparked from a vision to ease a crowded programming Fall calendar and create an inclusive event that would appeal to people of all ages and backgrounds. They began to brainstorm ideas for an event that would essentially “check all the boxes.” They were looking for an event that would be unique and attractive to children, adults, and families as well as singles and retirees. The concept of a food truck festival emerged as a unique and appealing option.
A dedicated team of volunteers set out to make the very first festival a reality, even if that reality was a short one time experiment. They launched the first food truck festival in November 2015 with six trucks and torrential downpours in the forecast the day of the event. Still, over a thousand people came with umbrellas and rain boots to enjoy the live music, activities for children and youth, inflatables (that were moved indoors), to compliment the fantastic food and fellowship. That first year, everyone was wet and happy.
In fact, the day proved to be far from a short one time experiment. Eight years later the festival has grown bigger than that first team of organizers could have ever imagined.
On Sunday, November 5, 2023, the church celebrated its 8th annual festival with over 2,300 people in attendance, over fifty volunteers, and enjoyed a beautiful sunny fall day.
In a Facebook post, the church shared their thankfulness to everyone who joined in the day: “Thank you all for joining us at our 8th Annual Food Truck Fest! One of our very favorite days of the year - spent celebrating community as families and friends gather together, sharing in the warmth of a beautiful Fall day…and the joy of invitation and belonging. This day for us is more than just a celebration of great food (though the food certainly WAS amazing!), it reminds us of the strength of community and fellowship…where good food brings people together in unity and love. Remember, y’all are all welcome here at Martha Bowman, anytime.”
Over the years, the organizers have gained valuable experience and insights into what works and what doesn't. The selection of food trucks is a crucial aspect of the festival's success. The organizers aim to offer a diverse array of food options while ensuring that no two trucks specialize in the same menu items. Each year Martha Bowman hosts 10 trucks and reserves a certain number of spots for local and regional trucks, while also opening applications to other interested vendors. They strive to cater to different dietary preferences and requirements, including dessert-specific trucks and those offering vegan and gluten-free options. They have established a strong rapport with food truck vendors to ensure a positive experience for everyone involved.
“We’ve worked to involve our church community in many ways through this special day, whether through baking cookies, boiling peanuts, or helping direct traffic,” said Elizabeth Hammock, Director of Family Ministry and Outreach at Martha Bowman UMC. “We have been blessed to meet and welcome so many in our Macon community.”
The event has had a significant impact on both the church, the surrounding neighborhood, and the community. The festival serves as an opportunity to bring people together, fostering a sense of unity. It transcends religious boundaries and offers a welcoming space for individuals and families from all walks of life.
“The practice of sharing a meal with others was central to the life and ministry of Jesus,” said Rev. Fran Magoni, Associate Pastor at Martha Bowman UMC. “Eating with others was not just the backdrop of His ministry but was an intentional way in which Jesus extended God’s grace and love to others. Each year during Food Truck Fest at Martha Bowman, it is our hope that those who attend will experience God’s love and grace as we welcome the Macon community to join us around the table.”
One of the noteworthy aspects of the Food Truck Festival ministry is its commitment to outreach and giving back to the community. Each year, the festival partners with a local organization or cause, encouraging attendees to contribute donations, such as canned goods or monetary contributions. The participating food trucks also donate a portion of their sales to this community partner. This collaborative effort allows the festival to make a positive impact beyond the event itself, reinforcing its mission of service and outreach.
During this year’s event, the ten participating trucks donated $1,875 to Crossroads Recovery in Macon and the event collected household items for Rescue Mission of Macon sharing what it means to be in community and ministry together.
In just 8 years, the Food Truck Festival has evolved from a small idea into a significant community event. It has become a means to connect with the wider community, break down barriers, and create a space where people can come together, enjoy good food, and build relationships.The festival is not about numbers or parking logistics, but about demonstrating love, kindness, and hospitality to all participants. It serves as a platform to share the Gospel of Jesus through actions, attitudes, and genuine care for others.
“The 'why' for this event is pretty simple and at times, in the chaos and unpredictability that can accompany an event like this, we have to remember it ourselves,” said Hammock. “It's not about the crowds; it's not about the number of people; it's definitely not figuring out how to park 10 giant trucks on flat surfaces in our tight parking lot. It's about loving people well and sharing through our actions, our attitudes, our kindness and our hospitality the Gospel of Jesus.”