A few years ago the staff and volunteers at the West Side Campaign Against Hunger’s pantry on West 86th Street started to notice something concerning.
“Our clients were coming from further and further away,” Brian Robinson, senior director of external affairs of the WSCAH said. “A lot for them were coming from northern Manhattan and the Bronx.”
Their clients were also getting older. With a large percentage of patrons, over the age of 55 WSCAH worried about how to serve people who lived further away and might not be able to make the trek to them.
Enter the WSCAH mobile market. The mobile market, which quietly launched this past winter was three years in the making. From the outside, the 32-foot long, freight line truck looks like any other big truck. Inside, however, it’s tricked out with customized shelving, some refrigeration and has the ability to attach an awning to the outside. The District 6 Community, served by Council Member Helen Rosenthal voted to fund the vehicle for WSCAH. But there were still a number of other issues the organization need to sort out before getting the mobile pantry up and running.
“We’ve run a pantry for 40 years but the whole mobile aspect was a challenge: finding the right partners in right communities, coordinating volunteers, finding where to store the food, even figuring out the driving of the vehicle,” Robinson said.
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Four days a week, the truck travels to northern Manhattan and areas in the Bronx (for a total of 17 different sites in the course of a month). At each site, people can pick up food and also receive other services.
“We didn’t want to just park and give out food,” Robinson said. “At our brick and mortar pantry, we also provide social services such as food stamp benefits, health insurance. There is a counselor on board the mobile market and she will soon be providing social services (access to benefits, referrals, etc.) to customers. Those services will vary depending on the needs of the different partner sites and their clients.”
WSCAH chooses the locations their mobile pantry visits by looking at areas where there are limited options of fresh, healthy food and where they could partner with organizations already working in the community such as BronxWorks in Morris Heights. Unlike at their physical location on West 86th Street, where WSCAH serves anyone who walks in the mobile pantry relies on the community partners at each of its sites to refer patrons to them.
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From dry goods to fresh fruits and vegetables and more, clients can choose from all the food groups when they visit the pantry. Much of the items are donated from places such as City Harvest, but WSCAH also purchases some items itself and thanks and also rescues food from Hunt’s Point where they also rent a warehouse to store food.