If you’ve been near the Shippensburg Station on the corner of East Fort Street and North Earl Street on Friday during lunchtime, you may have caught a whiff of some pulled pork, brisket or even some bacon pepper poppers.
From 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Friday, the Shippensburg Station hosts Food Truck Fridays, at which local food trucks volunteer to come and serve lunch for the local community.
The idea originated with Allen Dieterich-Ward, a member of the Cumberland Valley Rails to Trails Council on the board of directors, a history professor at Shippensburg University and an acting director of Food Truck Fridays.
“I’m always on the lookout for the kinds of things that I think would work here in Shippensburg, you know, and so having a food truck festival is kind of one of those things that I thought would be at the appropriate scale for what we could do at Shippensburg Station,” Dieterich-Ward said.
In its simplest form, Food Truck Fridays are fundraisers in which 10 percent of the proceeds go to funding Shippensburg Station’s Cumberland Valley Railroad Museum inside of the refurbished boxcar, and toward the rail trail itself. Dieterich-Ward said the events have brought in “a couple hundred dollars” so far.
The food trucks, which all come from local businesses, have included places like Carlisle-based Pretzel Spot Cafe, York-based The Dawg Pound, and Shippensburg’s own Uncle Eddie’s BBQ.
Alumni Relations Event Coordinator Lauren Hill said Tim Crider, the owner of Uncle Eddie’s BBQ, has played a crucial role in keeping Food Truck Fridays operating.
With turnouts averaging at about 50 people to 100 people a week, Crider said he agreed to sign on to continue each week because it’s close to home and helps support the community.
Crider first started operating his food truck in April earlier this year and said he has brought returning customers to Food Truck Fridays while also gaining some new customers from the event.
“I’ve been booked every weekend,” Crider said.
Although Shippensburg community members have responded to the event, Hill said attendance is still one of the team’s greatest challenges and is working to combat the issue with more advertising, such as posting yard signs around campus.
“We need to get more people before we can get more trucks,” said Hill. She said that she has heard the general consensus of wanting more variety, including better vegetarian options.
“As soon as we get that crowd, I’m ready and waiting to pop some more trucks in there.”
Dieterich-Ward explained that Food Truck Fridays have been a trial-and-error of sorts as the group entered unfamiliar territory in Shippensburg.
However, food trucks have been on the rise in the United States for years. According to the Economist, there were an estimated 4,000 food trucks in the U.S. Additionally, market research firm IBISWorld says that food truck industry revenue grew 7.9 percent annually from 2011 to 2016.
“We don’t know what’s going to work best for Shippensburg Station, but we do know that we need to start showing people that stuff can be done,” said Dieterich-Ward.
“So for us, Food Truck Fridays is really kind of an experiment... What does it take to get people to come? Is this the kind of thing that people want? How often does it happen?... You have to actually try it out and be willing to commit to trying things, to see if they will work.”
Both Dieterich-Ward and Hill view Food Truck Fridays as something much larger than the event itself.
“I think people see it and go, ‘Oh, that’s a cool, fun event,’ but really, a larger goal is — it’s not just about the event. Look at the big things we’re doing for this town,” said Hill.
Dieterich-Ward said that the Shippensburg Station, which hosts Food Truck Fridays, is designed to bring people from town toward the university, and to get people from the university toward town to align the two communities.
“The trajectory of the university and the trajectory of the town haven’t necessarily been lined up with one another,” said Dieterich-Ward.
“We’re at a really important moment right now, where you have leaders in the community and at the university who realize that the problems of the university are the problems of the town, and vice versa. We can’t have a strong, sustainable university without a strong, sustainable town.”
Hill said she has already seen a stronger sense of community in Shippensburg and that watching people interact has been extremely rewarding.
“I love seeing other people connect and that’s what it’s all about for me, is creating places where people feel like they can go by themselves and feel like home still,” said Hill.
“Sometimes when you go downtown or to bars or other restaurants, you tend to stay in your own little niche, and you don’t always reach out or interact, so this is a really cool, fun way for people to interact in that way.”
Shippensburg Station plans to hold more events in the future that will align Shippensburg’s downtown and university communities. The last Food Truck Friday of the year will be held on November 2. Hill says Food Truck Fridays are expected to return in the spring.
“I couldn’t be happier,” said Dieterich-Ward. “Everything is going really well.”