Joan Cheever of The Chow Train prepares a plate for someone in need. Photo by Scott Ball.
Joan Cheever of The Chow Train serves food to the homeless during the holidays in 2015. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

After 13 years and more than 100,000 meals served, The Chow Train is ending its Tuesday night hot meal dinner service, with the last Tuesday dinner being held on Christmas night.

Joan Cheever, founder of the San Antonio nonprofit dedicated to providing free, healthy meals to food-insecure and homeless residents of San Antonio, said she is stepping back to combat homelessness and hunger through writing and policy advocacy. She told followers at the Dec. 11 dinner and distributed information about other hot meal services around town.

“There were some tears on both sides,” she said. “It was very emotional. But everybody said, ‘You’ve been a blessing and thank you so much for what you’ve done, it has meant a lot.’ That makes me feel good about it. But it’s emotional.”

The Chow Train will still jump into action during disaster relief efforts, Cheever said. The nonprofit has traveled the country to help in the aftermath of multiple disasters, such as Hurricanes Isaac, Sandy, and Harvey, by serving hot meals to emergency responders and those affected by the natural catastrophes.

The Chow Train gained national media attention when San Antonio police officers in April 2015 cited and fined Cheever $2,000 for serving hot meals at Maverick Park. The City eventually dismissed the charges. 

Cheever wants to take that and other experiences she’s gained over 13 years with The Chow Train and put it toward efforts to address homelessness and food insecurity, whether it’s through policy advocacy or writing another book. She previously worked as a journalist and was a managing editor of the National Law Journal. She also earned a law degree, which she applied to her legal affairs reporting rather than practicing law. But following her run-in with local authorities, Cheever drafted and presented to City Council a charitable feeding ordinance, which was adopted three years ago almost to the day.

“I’ve gotten a degree in homelessness and hunger,” she said. “I feel very prepared to be able to talk about it.”

Cheever started The Chow Train in 2005 as a way to teach her children how to serve others. From the very beginning, she instituted a rule that guests must start their meal with a cup of hot vegetable soup.

A cup of soup is given. Photo by Scott Ball.
A Chow Train worker hands a cup of hot vegetable soup to a community member.

“I guess it stems from childhood: you can’t have dessert unless you have vegetables,” Cheever said. “I know people on the street don’t have access to hot meals or hot healthy meals, which we’re known for. It was my own Joan-mother thing [to say], ‘You can have the main course, but you gotta start with a cup of vegetable soup,’ which they love.”

Cheever said she made sure The Chow Train ending its Tuesday service would not affect those in need of food. Resurrection Ministries PastorBrian Wicks, who regularly accompanies The Chow Train with coffee and water bottles, will be distributing food in the four locations where The Chow Train serves. Cheever said the nonprofit would equip him with a freezer full of food, adding she would love to assist him with the new responsibility by finding others to partner with him. Those who are interested can email Cheever at

“I don’t want to overload him, so we would love to partner or have conversations with any other group [like] a church group, or how we started out – a group of girlfriends who wanted to cook together,” she said.

Travis Park United Methodist Church’s Corazon Ministries has also expressed interest in taking over The Chow Train’s Tuesday night meal service, Cheever said. Corazon Ministries already provides dinner on Wednesdays and lunch on Thursdays and Fridays.

“We’ve talked to them and they’ve been interested,” she said. “[But] it takes planning, and they have a board of directors, and I understand that. The most important thing for me for the short term was making sure the people we serve are covered. I feel really blessed and happy that that’s happened.”

Cheever said she is proud of what her organization has accomplished, but she said it’s time to step back.

“There’s only so much energy a person has,” she said. “I want to focus my energy onto the future and doing what I can – either to write about these issues or assist other people who have a lot more knowledge on how to work on this problem.”

On Tuesday evening, the Chow Train will serve beef tenderloin over mashed potatoes, grilled vegetable skewers, garden salad, dinner rolls, and angel food chocolate cupcakes for dessert. And, as always, a cup of hot vegetable soup to start.

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Jackie Wang

Jackie Wang covered local government for the San Antonio Report.