Second Harvest has a new tool coming online to help its battle against hunger in the community – a retired Spokane Transit Authority bus.
The bus was gutted and then fitted with shelves, a refrigerator and a freezer to turn it into a mobile grocery store, said Community Relations Manager Julie Humphreys.
The food bank currently does mobile markets, bringing semi-trucks packed with 8,000 to 10,000 pounds of food to community centers and churches for distribution. The events can attract between 250 and 350 families.
“We’ve been doing mobile markets, as we call them, since 2000,” she said. “It’s big volume. It takes a lot of space.”
Needing enough space for customer parking and the large truck constrains where they can visit. The old STA bus can only carry about 2,000 pounds of food, but it will be able to get into smaller areas.
“It allows us to really target areas and get in areas where we can’t get with our big trucks,” she said. “It gives us another way to access the food deserts.”
There are usually between 200 and 250 mobile markets a year, and Humphreys said they hope to be able to add 90 mobile grocery store visits a year by the bus.
“We’re not sure what we can do,” she said. “It’s an addition. It’s our latest way to get food to the people who need it the most.”
Visitors will walk through the bus like they do at a farmer’s market and be allowed to select what they want, Humphreys said. “We really, really want to focus on client choice,” she said.
Much of what they give out will be perishable. Humphreys said nearly half of the food Second Harvest Distributes is fresh produce. Another 25 percent is perishable food like milk, cheese and meat.
Second Harvest also has kitchen ambassadors that run their nutrition education program, and one of them will travel on the bus wherever it goes, giving clients advice on nutrition and how to cook unfamiliar foods.
The bus was retrofitted by Truline RV and Spokane Restaurant Equipment and Design. That work is complete, but there are a few mechanical issues to be addressed before the bus can go on the road, Humphreys said.
Humphreys said the plan is to use the bus to visit low-income apartment complexes and senior housing complexes.
“We’re going to focus on northeast Spokane initially then hopefully broaden that out,” she said.
The bus as a mobile grocery store idea came from the Zone Project, a collaborative project in northeast Spokane that seeks to increase opportunities for people living in the neighborhood. “They connected with STA and got the whole concept together and then came to us,” she said.
Second Harvest got $65,000 in funding from the Smith-Barbieri Progressive Fund, which paid for the shelving, generator, refrigerator and freezer. The bus was donated by STA and Women Helping Women donated money to help with the programs that will go along with the bus.
Second Harvest distributes food to 250 food banks and food sites in Eastern Washington and North Idaho. The food they distribute is rescued from grocery stores shortly before the sell by dates, donated by farmers and growers or collected in food drives. Second Harvest has 6,500 unique volunteers a year who help sort, package and distribute the food.
The mobile food markets, free cooking classes and now the mobile grocery store are the only way Second Harvest serves the public directly, and it’s important to find new ways to deliver food to those who need it, Humphreys said.
“We’re not your grandma’s food bank,” she said. “We have to be innovative and figure out what the best way to help the people who depend on us is.”
Humphreys said 1 in 7 people in Spokane is considered food insecure.
“They lack adequate resources and access to get enough nutritious food to live a healthy life,” she said. “We’re that first line of defense.”
Humphreys said she is looking forward to seeing the bus get on the road and start delivering food. “We’re all really excited about it,” she said.
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