Hello Reddit,

I am Chef Joan Cheever of the mobile food truck The Chow Train.

For 10 years, the Chow Train has provided meals to the homeless and working poor of San Antonio. We have also assisted in disaster relief efforts around the US.

Every Tuesday night for over six years, volunteers and I have served prepared meals to the homeless at various locations around San Antonio from the Chow Train pick-up truck. Tuesday, April 7th this year, was different. On that evening, four members of the San Antonio Police Department bike patrol stopped by while we were parked at 1000 N Alamo, the Sout East corner of Maverick Park, and instead of asking what was on the menu as they usually do, they instead gave me a ticket which comes with a $2000 dollar fine.

Attempting to criminalize compassion is nothing new, but there seems to be a nationwide trend of targeting efforts to feed the poor and hungry.

Some press coverage of the incident:

Huffington Post link: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/04/15/homeless-feeding_n_7066860.html?utm_hp_ref=politics

Washington Post link: http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2015/04/20/what-happened-when-this-feisty-woman-got-fined-2000-for-feeding-the-homeless/

Texas Monthly: http://www.texasmonthly.com/daily-post/san-antonio-gave-woman-2000-ticket-feeding-homeless

I am a former managing editor of The National Law Journal and in 2012 graduated from the Culinary School at St. Philips College, receiving an Associates degree in Culinary Arts. I received my Bachelor’s degree from Southern Methodist University; a Master’s in journalism from Columbia University and my law degree from St. Mary’s University.

From my bio at www.thechowtrain.com: For the past three decades, Joan M. Cheever has been a tireless advocate for the poor, persons without homes and those who are imprisoned, and is the author of Back From The Dead: One Woman’s Search For the Men Who Walked Off Death Row (John Wiley & Sons 2006), a book about imprisonment and the death penalty in the U.S.

Ask me anything!

Proof: http://imgur.com/cGOZiXu

Twitter: https://twitter.com/TheChowTrain

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Chow-Train/147428511995895

Edit: It is 7:37 CST and I am late for dinner with friends. I will come back tomorrow and answer your questions. I look forward to meeting those of you who wish to volunteer. Thank you so much.

Comments: 77 • Responses: 19  • Date: 

Warlizard21 karma

  1. How would you respond to proponents of this type of law who say that they are attempting to curtail the crime, drug use, and sanitary issues that arise from a permanent homeless population?

  2. Would you support feeding the homeless in a designated area?

  3. Do you think that your food service encourages people to congregate in areas you visit?

  4. At what point do the rights of the homeless population override those of the local property owners and businesses? As an example, if I own a business in an area and my customers are being harassed by homeless people (as multiple business owners have claimed), to the point that customers choose to go elsewhere, I face losing my business. How do you see my rights as a business owner vs. the rights of the homeless?

  5. Do you have any examples of successful campaigns that have reduced the homeless population?

Thanks for doing this AMA, I'm really curious and these are the things that occurred to me to ask.

EDIT: I did some research and it looks like San Antonio is trying to improve the downtown area and the politicians are cracking down on the homeless population.


It looks like there are 5 different homeless shelters within 10 blocks of Maverick Park -- isn't food available there?


Also, I'm reading that you were cited for not using an appropriate truck to serve food. So if that were the only issue, couldn't you use your food truck?


Were you warned prior to getting ticketed that they wanted you to stop?

Damn, I have about a million questions.

EDIT: More questions.

I see on your form 990 (http://990s.foundationcenter.org/990_pdf_archive/451/451223294/451223294_201212_990EZ.pdf) that the money given to your organization dropped by nearly 50% from 2011 to 2012. Why?

Got another article here that says the city is trying to deal with the homeless problem in San Antonio by encouraging them to go to Haven for Hope.


They're a few blocks from where you're serving food -- couldn't you serve the same food there?

TheChowTrain24 karma

  1. I would suggest to the government that they look to other communities like nearby Austin and Salt Lake City and look at Housing First. 2. No, I do not think they should be served a meal in a designated area. "The poor they will be be with us always." There are many faces of homelessness and hunger. Some chronic, some temporary. It's hard for us to teach our children compassion if they are do not see who they need to help. Homelessness and working poor are in every part of town. We need to go to them. 3. No. We are not there for very long and neither are they. They are always looking and worried about where they can sleep that night --safely.4.There is a panhandling law in this city which the police use frequently. I'm doing something so they don't have to panhandle for food. I'm giving them a hot meal. That's why the SAPD have been so supportive of The Chow Train. Serve them dinner reduces/eliminates the panhandling those nights when we serve dinner. 5. Yes, Salt Lake City. $16,670 per person for ER and jail time versus $11,000 to provide each person with an apartment and a social worker. thanks for your questions.

SuckItJerkwad17 karma

What is your rationale for challenging the ticket under the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act?

TheChowTrain48 karma

I am Catholic ( born and raised) and I take the Bible seriously. So when Jesus said: "When I was hungry, you fed me" Matthew 25:35, I take that to mean, when people are hungry I have a moral and religious duty/responsibility to feed them. He also said, "Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me." The Bible makes it pretty clear.

miz09098 karma

Hope I don't come off as ignorant. Do you prepare specific food for people who have poor dental health/missing teeth? Also, what dish do they like the most?

TheChowTrain7 karma

Great question and something I had to learn over the years! Specifically bc of the dental health issue. So I braise everything and make the meat soft. Favorite dishes: Veggie soup; Picadillo, Green Chicken Enchiladas and Spaghetti Bolognese. Thanks for your q.

StabAntonio7 karma

I live in San Antonio and honestly never heard about Chow Train until you were ticketed. If I wanted to volunteer or help out, what would be the best way to do it?

TheChowTrain6 karma

Contact me via The Chow Train's FB page or via the website, www.thechowtrain.com. We always need help and volunteers. Thanks so much!

viewerblur7 karma

I had read that your permit was expired, so that is why you were ticketed. Is this true?


TheChowTrain13 karma

The permit was not expired. We have a valid permit. There was a little confusion because initially, when surrounded by 4 SAPD officers, in the midst of all of that an old permit was pulled out and shown. When we realized our error -- within a minute, a copy of the new permit was given to them. That's the crux of early confusion and reporting.. No expired permit issue.

Leff_hook7 karma

Hello Joan, fellow San Antonian here. I have been homeless and know firsthand what it's like. I've also worked in restaurants all my life. My question is: How can I volunteer my time? If love to be a part of this, and if you're accepting helpers then sign me up! So, can I help? If so, how?

TheChowTrain5 karma

Send me an email through the chow train website. www.thechowtrain.com. Hit the contact us button. Thanks so much!

Nigsignoodles7 karma

Hey Joan! I think the work you're doing is amazing! I would love to know how you became so dedicated to helping the homeless people of San Antonio? Was it any particular moment?

TheChowTrain15 karma

I had a very good teacher in my mother, Sally. So when we moved back to SAT, it was during our kids' tween years and I just heard a little bit too much …."I want I want I want" When I'd heard enough, I put on a pot of chili or spaghetti, grabbed them and any of their friends, threw them in the car with the hot food (along with plates, napkins, forks & water) and we drove around San Antonio serving people who had nothing and were NOT complaining. I think they understood my point.

Pandabear8116 karma

What is the best/worst moment you've experienced with a customer?

TheChowTrain14 karma

There are so many bests. The tears of joy, appreciation, hugs & kisses. So many of these "invisible people" tell me that I have no idea what this hot meal does for them. They say it's a gift of love. They've even shared recipes and ask me all sorts of questions about the cooking process. The worst? Recently meeting the homeless woman named "Anne Marie" who lay dying under a pecan tree and there's nothing I can do about her situation. It's heart breaking.

Alidpayne8 karma

Hi Joan, I wrote an article about you and the Chow Train a couple of years ago for a website called BonfireImpact.com run by Ronnie Cameron of the Philadelphia Eagles. Not really a question, just wanted to show support and say I really appreciate what you do for people.

TheChowTrain6 karma

Thank you. I do remember the article and I appreciate it -- then and now. Thanks so much. J

mathraj6 karma

What is your opinion of food stamps & current government programs to help the homeless? What needs to be done to get rid of homelessness in United States?

TheChowTrain22 karma

Housing FIRST. Housing FIRST. That should be the top priority. That is the best way to alleviate the problem. Get the homeless into housing and only THEN can you work on the other problems. Austin is doing it with Community First (thank you Alan Graham and Mobile Loaves & Fishes !) and Salt Lake City. It is more cost effective to house them than to send them to ER or jail.

stayputsocks6 karma

I'm in San Antonio and would like to help, but cannot volunteer. Is there some other way I can support you as you fight this feeding ban?

TheChowTrain4 karma

Thank you for asking. We do have a legal fund over at go fund me. The link is:http://www.gofundme.com/chowtraindonation

Everything helps and is very appreciated.

feeldafeel5 karma

How do you raise money to be able to provide food for the poor and homeless? Is it out of your own pockets or do you have some sort of fundraisers?

I love the work you're doing. People who helps the disadvantaged and vulnerable in society like you are always earn my utmost respect. :-)

TheChowTrain15 karma

When we first started, it was out of our own pockets. We depend on donations to continue to serve hot, healthy, delicious meals to not only the homeless/working poor here in SAT but also to the newly homeless in federal disasters like the Joplin tornado, Moore, OK tornado and hurricanes and the Bastrop Texas fires. A lot of the vegetables come from the very generous farmers at Olmos Basin Farmers market and we have partnerships with other vendors. I also ask a lot. If you don't ask, you don't get. And I am passionate. So I'm always asking. Thanks for the nice compliment.

NotYourRealMom5 karma

What types of meals do you generally serve? I used to volunteer with Food Not Bombs and we always kept to a vegan menu. Do you follow a similar philosophy?

TheChowTrain5 karma

We serve a standard fare: vegetable soup to start (ALWAYS); protein (meat, chicken or fish) and a carb (rice, pasta, or mashed potatoes), a garden salad, some more vegetables (whatever I get from the Farmer's market that doesn't go into the soup) and then, if I have it, a dessert. So you can be vegan and still eat at The Chow Train. What happened to Food Not Bombs in SA? When was living on the street in Austin for three days as part of MLF's Street Retreat many years ago, the first meal I had was from FNB. Delicious and so very much appreciated! Thank you for doing that!

ebackhus4 karma

Wasn't the ticket for a permit issue?

TheChowTrain8 karma

Yes, the ticket was for a section in the code 13.62 which says a food truck must have a permit, which The Chow Train does. We weren't operating The Chow Train food truck but that night, April 7th, we were the caterer/food delivery server from the licensed mobile Chow Train kitchen. They ticketed us because we were in a "private" car. But the way I see it, then every private car used by Papa Johns, Dominoes Pizza or a restaurant delivery service subcontractor also should be ticketed because they too are "in violation." They do what we did. But you see, therein lies the prob. There are no violations for an ordinance the does not exist. There ARE NO SPECIAL PERMITS that even exist for caterers and Dominoes etc. or food delivery services.

theprizepatrol4 karma

How did you go from being a lawyer to feeding the poor?

TheChowTrain11 karma

It's all about social justice. And taking care of people.

frozengrapesforapes3 karma

Hey, I'm thinking of opening a food truck and was curious about what you have to say about the whole mobile aspect of it all? Challenging? Fun? I have an Instagram with all my food stuff too if you'd like to see it!

TheChowTrain6 karma

I think food trucks are great. Because it's not as costly as investing in a brick and mortar restaurant. And you can move around the city. But like anything, it's work. But when you love what you do, it doesn't feel like work. It feels GREAT! Good luck to you!

mobilis_mobili3 karma

Do you intend to pay the fine, fight the ticket or simply ignore the city and force them to escalate the situation?

TheChowTrain14 karma

I do not intend to pay the fine because I do not feel the fine is justified and I am not guilty. I have legal representation and I intend to fight.

[deleted]0 karma


TheChowTrain8 karma

There is no specific permit for feeding homeless. There is a permit for feeding people. I have that. I feed people. They just happen to be homeless or working poor.

Op69dong-36 karma

In popular opinion, the only good cop is a dead cop. Do you think next time you are approached by law enforcement, you should just open fire?

TheChowTrain9 karma

I have the utmost respect for the SAPD. They always watch over me while I am serving on the street. They've got my back and I will always have theirs. I'm sorry they were put in this position.