Upcoming food truck rally in Gainesville will benefit Afghan and Haitian refugees

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An upcoming food truck rally will be raising funds to support Afghan and Haitian refugees living in Gainesville.

The Original Gainesville Food Truck Rally, which will be held on Saturday starting at 4 p.m., will benefit Welcoming Gainesville and Alachua County, an organization that aims to eliminate prejudice, celebrate diversity and help newcomers to the community. The event, sponsored by the University of Florida College of Pharmacy, will have a free concert at High Dive, about 10 food trucks and a cultural student talent show.

Madiha Ali, a UF pharmacy student, said she reached out to Welcoming Gainesville and High Dive to fundraise for a reestablishment agency for refugees who want to settle in Gainesville.

“We wanted to find a way to benefit the global community on a local scale,” she said. “And when we found Welcoming Gainesville, we aligned with their mission, values and energy.”

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the UF College of Pharmacy hosted a charity event called the Global Gala that benefits the college’s medical service trips, Ali said. The college decided to refocus its efforts this year through the food truck rally.

“Due to COVID, we wanted the event to be outside and a little more casual to keep it in line with the local vibe,” she said. “High Dive was really happy to have Welcoming Gainesville and us as the beneficiaries for their March food truck rally.”

The food truck rally, which has been hosted for nine years, has raised tens of thousands of dollars for local charities, according to High Dive facility and events manager Pat Lavery. The live music venue chooses a different charity each year. The goal is to raise about $2,000 for Welcoming Gainesville this year. 

Barbara McDade Gordon, the president of Welcoming Gainesville, said she is grateful the pharmacy students chose the group to be the beneficiary organization for the event. Most of the proceeds will go to the three Afghan and Haitian families who moved to the city last fall.

“We don’t care how much or how little it is,” she said. “We are simply delighted that we got plugged into this network.”

The organization has worked with newcomers from all over the world, including Afghanistan, Iraq and Mexico, McDade Gordon said. It collaborates with city and county governments and local businesses to develop programs, policies and opportunities that empower immigrants and refugees.

“Welcoming Gainesville is a small organization made up of only 11 board of directors,” she said. “We serve as a catalyst and a collaborator with the other programs here in town that have greater resources.”     

One of Welcoming Gainesville’s main goals is revitalizing its language conversation program, in which people who speak one language are matched with English speakers, McDade Gordon said. The project aims to create connections and provide English speakers with an opportunity to learn about a different culture and another language. 

Gainesville Commissioner David Arreola, who is one of four candidates to have filed to run for mayor later this year, previously worked with Welcoming Gainesville’s initiatives.

The organization, which began as an independent venture, joined the Welcoming America network to promote more immigrant-inclusive policies and provide a space for people to share ideas about how the community can support international students and immigrants, Arreola said. 

He said he wants to focus his campaign on inclusive policies, especially improving police interactions with speakers of other languages.

“Some police officers were using Google translate to try to speak with folks in another language, which was obviously not effective,” he said. “So we put a lot of effort into getting a collaborative conversation going between the police department and the representatives of the immigrant community such as Welcoming Gainesville.”

Arreola also said he hopes to establish an international center, which would house community programs and help new arrivals acclimate to Gainesville.

“I want it to be a place where folks can house international visitors,” he said. “Whether it’s for business or whether it’s just family, and have a space where they can collaborate.”

About Jacqueline Macia

Jacqueline is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.