Community members will now have access to fresh fruits and vegetables regardless of where they live thanks to a new service provided by the YMCA.
The Tampa Metropolitan Area YMCA is expanding its Veggie Van: A Mobile Market Place to Plant City, providing fresh fruits and vegetables to communities in need.
The van services food deserts, urban neighborhoods without ready access to healthy and affordable foods, and has plans to come every two weeks to Plant City. Zach Hilferding, the executive director at the Plant City YMCA, said the van is helping those in need get the resources so many take for granted.
“I think it stems from the systemic problem that many people don’t have the transportation that you and I
take for granted,” Hilferding said. “It’s not as easy to run down to Walmart if you don’t have a vehicle. It’s not as easy to run down to our great farmer’s market if you can’t drive there. We take for granted, too, being able to go a mile or two away from the grocery store but that’s just not the availability for so many of these people.”
Hilferding said the van is not bringing a market or a grocery store but simply fresh, nutritious fruits and vegetables that are difficult, if not impossible, to find at the many convenience stores and gas stations strewn throughout the communities the van visits.
Elizabeth Roman, the mobile food market director, is the staffer in charge of the veggie van. Though Roman has visited many locations with the truck she said Plant City’s reaction to the service took her by surprise.
“It was pretty amazing to see the line just curve around,” Roman said. “They parked me in the field and the line went all the way down the street. They were there before I had even got there. I’ve never seen that before, it caused quite an impression on me.”
The first stop in Plant City, Dover Elementary, had a line wrapping around the street and the veggie van sold out in the first 20 minutes, which Roman said is partly due to its excellent social worker. Roman said she brought an average load of 65 bags per school because she wasn’t sure what the turnout would be. Next time, she estimates having to bring at least 135 bags to meet the demand.
“The population in the area has a great need for access to great fruits and vegetables,” Roman said. “Having that involvement from the school gives us an automatic buy-in with the community… I think that by having the social worker say it is a good program we were able to gain the trust of these people who didn’t know who we were.”
Because of the high turnout, Roman said if the interest continues she hopes to grow the Plant City outreach into more than the current two stops, which are at Dover Elementary and Marshall Middle School. The ultimate goal would be to be able to visit every school in the area.
Plant City’s heavy agriculture background also may soon play a role in the program. Roman said she would like to start partnering with farmers in the area to provide locally grown produce to those in need.
“Plant City’s reaction to the van was amazing,” Roman said. “We always need more volunteers. I am positive this is just going to continue to grow. I think it’s going to be one of the best stops yet.”