Food recommendations for good nutrition ring hollow for those who struggle to feed their families, but Cleveland’s new mobile pantry truck is just the latest in a growing trend for food banks nationwide to deliver hope by bringing mobile pantry trucks filled with fresh, healthy produce to people where they live. The box trucks carry not only the fresh fruits and vegetables that are so often lacking in the diets of low-income families, but also an opportunity to reach out to the people who use the trucks’ services and educate them about nutrition resources, as well as meal preparation. The free grocery deliveries empower the poorest neighborhoods and those living in food desert conditions to get a leg up on the health issues that spring from chronic malnutrition and make a significant impact on the food banks’ mission to wipe out hunger.
The Greater Cleveland Food Bank won a $50,000 grant from Feeding America, a charity organization dedicated to fighting hunger, to help them lease and renovate a box truck to fit their needs of transporting and delivering fresh produce in poverty-stricken neighborhoods. Similar trucks roll to neighborhoods in Illinois, Connecticut, New York, Oregon, Los Angeles, and Contra Costa Counties in California, as well as many other areas nationwide. The trucks draw a crowd without a lot of publicity because the need fuels word of mouth.
Donna Lake, a spokeswoman for the Northern Illinois Food Bank, asserts that hunger is not an isolated issue because of the underlying poverty that drives it. If people have trouble paying for groceries, it is safe to say there will also be issues with housing and utility costs, healthcare, underemployment or unemployment, all of which tend to drain people of faith that a better life is possible. Without hope, they are trapped in a cycle of futility that makes it very difficult to escape the grim reality of their daily existence. The mobile food pantry trucks help combat the hopelessness by not only delivering the fresh produce and healthy fare recommended by health experts and distributing it free of charge, but by reaching out to those who seek their services. Outreach counselors work with recipients to register for government nutrition assistance if they have not already done so and teach them how to prepare the fresh produce.
Joliet Second Baptist Church Pantry Coordinator Greg Brown explains that many of the families that use their services are the working poor. They have jobs, but the income is not enough to cover the cost of feeding their families. Yolanda Rent shared with the Joliet Herald-News that sometimes she has to choose between paying her rent and buying groceries. The Feeding America website reports that the mobile pantry programs eliminate barriers that interfere with people’s ability to access services in poorly served areas. It also helps those in need maintain their dignity while receiving the benefits of good nutrition. Feeding America’s goal is to help families become self-sufficient with job training in addition to grocery and nutrition services.
The box trucks deliver hundreds of pounds of fresh produce at each session to help bridge the gap between a family’s income and their meal budget. The colorful trucks are a much more portable and visible means of delivering fresh produce and hope in low-income communities than the pop-up tents previously used on street corners. It makes it easy to move the distribution a few blocks and serve more people. People of all ages, in all forms of transportation, come to shop for fresh produce such as zucchini, sweet potatoes, apples, radishes, squash and oranges at the mobile pantry, although citrus fruits are harder for the food banks to come by for distribution. In the end, the customers are grateful for the help, offering thanks to the distribution workers and counselors for the groceries, cooking demonstrations and the tips for food preparation and meal planning that are a piece of the puzzle to helping them achieve freedom from poverty and look to the future with hope that makes a difference.
By Tamara Christine Van Hooser