In a day and age when most communities now have food pantries, there is a subtle shift going on in how some nonprofits reach their constituents. For communities with pockets of residents who cannot easily access the local food pantry, efforts are being made to bring the food to THEM, rather than making the residents find transportation to the food.
Three and a half years ago, Beth Porter from the Kraft Family YMCA approached the principal of Lincoln Heights Elementary School to discuss the results of their Energize program at the school. Energize is a program for children who are pre-disposed to Type II diabetes, and Porter was interested in the principal’s feedback after two sessions of the program. The principal indicated that the program was great but that the kids in the program were handicapped by their families’ lack of access to healthy food.
Not long after that meeting, Porter was engaged in the YMCA’s long-range planning outreach process and spoke to the Interfaith Food Shuttle (IFS) about partnering opportunities. The YMCA was interested in finding ways to work with other organizations to meet additional needs in the community, and IFS looked to be a great resource to achieve that goal. IFS Outreach Director Elizabeth Rogers explained to Porter that they were in the process of closing some of their pantry operations and switching to a “mobile market” concept where they organized sites in the areas of highest need and delivered the food directly to those sites. Porter saw this as a perfect way to address the problems the kids at Lincoln Heights had in accessing decent foods, especially fresh fruits and vegetables.
And so the process of creating a mobile market began—working with the principal at the school, site visits by IFS personnel, interest studies, assessing volunteer capacity in the area, and more. Porter and her team visited a mobile market in Raleigh to get ideas and determined how they would get the word out to the local community in Fuquay-Varina about their site.
The mobile market opened at Lincoln Heights about three months later, under the covered walkway outside the school. The school approved giving flyers out to all the students and, between that and notifying local churches, they had a crowd at the very first market! Word of mouth was their biggest ally as they worked to make the community aware of the mobile market in its first few months. Having it at the school created a safe space for families to come to and helped build a sense of community for those who attended. The market opened to 50 families and about 20 shut-ins, and has steadily increased its client base over the last three years.
Today, the mobile market is well into its fourth year of operation. Although the market has always moved to St. Augusta Mission Baptist Church right down the road during the winter months, the market has been using the church exclusively for the last year while Lincoln Heights Elementary School has been undergoing its major renovations. But despite the move, the market continues to serve members of our community that have a hard time accessing the local food pantry. It also emphasizes fresh vegetables and fruits over traditional processed foods, staples, and basic groceries. “Our families can get some of those things through our market,” explains Porter, “but our first emphasis is on the fresh foods that most food pantries don’t often get. We get some dairy, some meat, and some groceries, but the majority of our foods are gleaned vegetables and local fruits that IFS picks up from local grocery stores in the area and local farmers.”
So how does the mobile market work and how many people does it reach? The volunteers who man the market every first Tuesday of the month are a well-oiled machine. It takes 40-80 volunteers to successfully organize the market and deliver food. The market is made up of the local site at St. Augusta Mission Baptist Church on Bridge Street, and an army of drivers who deliver food to sick and shut-in families. Each family gets 5 bags of food, whether they go to the mobile market itself or receive a delivery from a volunteer.
Today, the mobile market feeds between 600-850 mouths every month. That equates to 70-90 families that attend the market and 30-100 shut in families. Several volunteers also receive food and they are often a good source of referrals for other families who need to access the mobile market’s services.
While the YMCA organizes the distribution and delivery of food, the food itself is collected and delivered by IFS to the mobile market via an 18-wheeler. The food is off-loaded on pallets and set up for distribution by volunteers. Once the clients arrive, they each get a “shopping buddy” who helps them pick out food, hold bags for them, and help them carry their bags to the car when they are done. The mobile market lasts from 4:00-6:00 pm and volunteers are busy the entire time.
The pool of volunteers constantly changes and has included Fuquay-Varina High School Achievers, the Holly Springs High Key Club, students from Middle Creek High School, Boy & Girl Scout troops, home-schooling groups, bible study groups, youth groups, civic groups like Rotary, and corporate groups. Several local churches, such as Fuquay-Varina United Methodist Church, Fuquay-Varina Baptist Church, St. Augusta Mission Baptist Church, Temple Baptist Church, and Sunrise Methodist Church, are involved as well.
In addition to the food delivered by IFS every month, the YMCA has a community garden that provides some food for the market. The YMCA also receives donations from partners like Panera Bread and NY Bagels. Periodic food drives help stock the market with nonperishable groceries at different times of the year.
Porter’s goal for the mobile market is to continue to increase the number of families it can serve. “To do so, we will need more volunteers and more food,” she says. “The food is the easy part. We continue to try to get the word out so more people will know they can access the service, but it truly takes manpower to make the market work and we’d love to increase our volunteer pool as our numbers grow.”
For more information about the mobile market and ways you can contribute food or volunteer to help on the first Tuesday of every month from 4:00-6:00 pm, you can contact Beth Porter, Director of Volunteerism at the Kraft Family YMCA at (919) 657-9622.