On weekdays, Bridgette Pinder gets up at 6 a.m. She makes salads, ensures she has enough water and gas for the day, and cleans her nearly 1,000-pound food cart.

She leaves her Malton house at 9:30 a.m. behind the wheel of her blue van, towing the cart on a trailer. An hour later, she arrives at the southeast corner of Yonge St. and St. Clair Ave., unloads the cart, ties on a white apron and opens for business, ready to sell her jerk chicken wraps.

After 20 years as a social worker, the friendly 52-year-old left her career to join Toronto a la Cart, a city pilot project to bring food more diverse than the traditional hot dog to city streets.

She refinanced her house to raise the $50,000 she says she’s invested in the project, and to help sustain her and 11-year-old son while she waits for her new business to turn a profit. She says she made the move to get outside and spend more time with people.

“I love the community, they’ve been really warm and embracing,” she says.

Toronto a la Cart’s eight vendors first hit the streets under two months ago, more than a year and a half after the proposal for bringing diverse food to the streets.

In November 2007, the city proposed borrowing $700,000 to buy 35 carts and lease them to vendors. The idea was eventually withdrawn in the face of criticism that the city was making a financial mistake. A second proposal, in January 2008, to have an independent investor foot the cost of buying the carts, fell through when the city couldn’t find an investor. The project in its current form was approved by city council last December.

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