They don’t have access to fresh produce. So fresh produce is coming to them.

·3 min read

The truck was ready, packed with crates of plums, corn, potatoes and bell peppers. Its fridges were filled with milk and yogurt, and its shelves were stacked with recipe cards.

And so it pulled out of the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore and headed south to one of the region’s food deserts. On the outside of the colorful truck, bold lettering proclaimed the nonprofit’s latest initiative to combat hunger: “Mobile Market.”

Before long it rolled into the parking lot of the Chesapeake campus of Tidewater Community College where it would sit for the next few hours, a technicolor beacon of hope.

“Want to go shopping? Everything is free,” Zach Nissen, Foodbank’s community outreach manager, later said with a smile to a trickle of people waiting to hop into the farmers market on wheels.

“Take as much as you need,” he added. “And if you know someone who is hungry, please take food for them, too.”

Most people, it seemed, did. A family member, a friend, a co-worker, a student.

At least 42 million people in the United States — a third of them children — now fall into the category of being “food insecure,” according to Feeding America, the nation’s largest network of food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters.

Here, on Virginia’s community college campuses, about a third of students struggled to pay for food last fall. More than 40 percent struggled to pay for housing.

The pandemic and its ensuing economic fallout forced Foodbank to adapt and change. Staff had to contend with boosted demand amid donation decreases and supply chain disruptions.

The closure of community partners such as schools and churches prompted Foodbank to rethink how to get food into the hands of the hungry, prompting the launch of drive-thru pantries which saw hundreds of vehicles snake through parking lots to have their popped trunks filled with a cardboard box containing a week’s worth of food.

And late last month came Foodbank’s newest initiative: a fleet of four “757 Mobile Markets,” charged with bringing fresh produce to people who might otherwise go without.

The initiative, funded in part by the City of Virginia Beach Pandemic Relief Partnership, Obici Healthcare Foundation and the CARES Act, is due to be fully operational later this summer.

Four trucks — which can each hold 20,000 pounds of food — will be routed through areas of greatest need five days per week.

Two mobile market vehicles will be operated by two of Foodbank’s partner agencies — The Mount in Virginia Beach will serve residents in Bayside and Lake Edward and the Basilica of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception will serve residents Norfolk’s St. Paul’s community. Foodbank will operate the other two.

“Gosh, it’s beautiful,” June Brinkley said Wednesday afternoon as stepped onto the truck and perused its shelves.

One of her colleagues had visited the truck earlier in the day and told Brinkley, who works as a student advisor at TCC, she mustn’t miss it.

During her decade of working at community colleges, she’d grown accustomed to bringing extra snacks to work for students who might be hungry. Today she was collecting for her own family, but she looks forward to when the truck will return throughout the fall and campus is operating at higher capacity. “This will really help us a lot,” she said while setting a carton of cherries into her basket.

All told, the truck would serve 72 households this day, totaling around 260 people.

Foodbank staff hope that gradually word will spread about the mobile food trucks offering free produce. The need, they know, is out there. And these brightly colored vehicles will continue to weave through the region, dispatched to find it.

Olivia George,

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