YOUNGSTOWN – If you can’t get some people groceries, get some people groceries.
“A lot of kids (in Youngstown) live off Beef Jerkys and candy bars at gas stations,” said Phil Bechtel, director of Access to Healthy Foods Mahoning Valley.
However, children and adults across much of the Mahoning Valley will soon be able to improve their diets and have better access to healthier food choices. That’s because of the new Mahoning Valley Mobile Market, which was the centerpiece of Tuesday afternoon’s groundbreaking ceremony at the Grove Byzantine Center on the south side.
The vehicle, which will resemble a traveling grocery store, is due to start operating twice a week on May 10 and serve many people who live in areas that lack access to healthy food. It also promises to be a major boon for those with little or no transportation to major grocery stores, Bechtel said.
The Alliance for Congregational Transformation Influencing Our Neighborhoods (ACTION), a faith-based community organizing group, and Flying High Inc., a 28-year-old nonprofit with a variety of programs aimed at improving the quality of life in the region.
For about three years, ACTION and Flying High set up pop-up markets throughout the valley that inspired the traveling grocery store, organizers said. Markets operate weekly from June to September.
Another goal is to bring the vehicle into seniors’ residences and high-rise apartment buildings, many of whose residents have limited income and transportation, Bechtel said. He added that a truck will also visit restaurants in the area as well as institutions such as prisons, schools and rehabilitation centers.
Inside the mobile market are four freezers and four refrigerators for foods such as milk, eggs, meat and poultry, as well as numerous wooden crates for fresh produce, fruits and vegetables. A variety of pantry staples will also be available.
Jeff Macara, director of Flying High, said the produce is grown primarily on an urban farm. The Mineral Ridge-based Campus of Care building will be used to store, package and distribute the items, he said.
Vicki Vicars, pastoral minister at Youngstown-based St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, said about $288,000 in donations had been made since she wrote a grant and the initial funding letter was sent on last summer.
Additionally, Mahoning County commissioners approved an additional $150,000 for 500 bonds. Eligible Mahoning County residents can apply for 12 $25 vouchers, each of which can be used monthly for one year, she said.
To be eligible, recipients must live in Mahoning County and be below 200% of federal poverty levels, Vicars said, adding that she hopes to generate the funds necessary to start such a program in Trumbull County.
In addition to vouchers, the mobile market will accept other forms of payment, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program; women, infants and children; and benefits of senior products.
“It’s a humbling moment,” said Rose Carter, Executive Director of ACTION. “It underscores our mission to inspire passion for ACTION to seek solutions to overcome social injustice, racism and poverty.”
Following the event, the center hosted the 19th Annual ACTION Banquet and Awards Ceremony, where the keynote speaker was the Reverend Todd Johnson, pastor of Second Baptist Church in Warren.
Those who received the Frances Kerpsack Award for their contributions to the community were Reverend Kenneth L. Simon, pastor of New Bethel Baptist Church in Youngstown; Thomas D. Sauline, director of the Mahoning Valley Association of Church; Sharon Letson, Executive Director of Youngstown CityScape; and Brandon Perry of City Kids Care.
The Pathfinders Awards were presented to Councilwoman Anita Davis, D-6th Ward, and one of the first black female police officers in the Youngstown Police Department; and the Reverend Jim Ray, a longtime civil rights and community activist.