By: Kate Olender, Senior Director, Health & Wellness, United Fresh Produce Association
“Mom, I’m so excited that we can eat dinner for the next couple nights!” Kirsten Salas overheard these words from a little boy at Robertson Road Elementary, where he was picking up fresh fruits and vegetables from Mobile Fresh for Kids with his mother.
He and his mother had stepped to the side of the produce delivery truck and were sorting out what they could take home when the boy piped up again. Knowing that feeding the family three meals is a daily struggle, he said, “It’s okay mommy. You save this food for dinner and we’ll figure out something else for the rest of the day.” She replied, “Honey, with this food we have enough for dinner and breakfast.”
It’s a heartbreaking story, but not an uncommon one, says Kirsten Salas, Director of Grants and programs at the Second Harvest Food Bank of San Joaquin & Stanislaus County, Inc., which offers Mobile Fresh for Kids. The program, supported with a United Fresh Start Foundation Community Grant, is a mobile market that provides fresh fruits and vegetables to low-income children and their families.
The Robertson Road site serves over 400 children, 99% of whom are eligible for free or reduced lunch, and their families. The community has 300 low-income housing units, and children – like the little boy Kirsten overheard – speak candidly about the rarity of eating three meals a day.
Fortunately, Mobile Fresh for Kids helps. The Robinson Road community has embraced the program, and parents volunteer to help distribute produce and talk to kids about fresh fruits and veggies. The market visits the neighborhood more frequently in summer when the kids aren’t getting school meals, and teachers even head to the school weekly over the summer to volunteer with produce distribution.
The principal helps, too. Once, there was a child who had cancer and was unable to attend school. The family was facing incredible hardship, and the principal had been purchasing groceries for them. Then the Mobile Fresh for Kids program came to Robertson Road. The principal still delivers fresh fruits and veggies to the family, but the mobile market makes it so she no longer needs to buy them all.
Teachers and staff often deliver produce to absent children and their families, too. “There’s a strong sense of community here,” says Kirsten. “Everyone helps each other.”