Food pantries are vital lifelines in the fight against hunger across America. Increasingly, pantries have been going mobile to deliver healthy food directly to areas that have high levels of need. So just what is a mobile food pantry, and how does it work?
Think of a mobile food pantry as a pantry on wheels. With a mobile pantry, a truck is used to bring food directly to people who are in need and live in underserved areas. Having to travel more than a couple of miles can be a barrier to food access for people without cars or other means of transportation, and millions of Americans are living in areas with little or nonexistent access to healthy food, which are often referred to as food deserts. In fact, about 23.5 million people live in food deserts, and 2.3 million people live in rural areas that are more than 10 miles from a supermarket. By bringing food straight to the communities that need it, mobile food pantries are a convenient way to provide food to food-insecure people.
Mobile food pantries are stocked with fresh produce, protein, dairy, grains, and other grocery products that people need. They are often able to carry more perishable food than a traditional food pantry because of the fast turnaround time between when the pantry receives the food items and when they’re distributed to clients.
Mobile food pantries travel to designated distribution sites such as churches, libraries, and community centers on specific days and times. Their appearances are often publicized via community outreach efforts such as posting flyers throughout the neighborhood, distributing notes in school to be sent home with students, and displaying announcements on community bulletins. Typically, mobile pantries stay on-site for at least a couple of hours, during which staff and volunteers help to provide people in the community with food assistance at no charge to them on a first-come, first-served basis.
Feeding America’s Mobile Food Pantry Program supplements other local hunger-relief agencies by distributing food to clients either in pre-packed boxes or through a farmers market-style distribution method by which clients can “shop” and choose whatever items they need. The latter is thought to help participants feel more like shoppers that are able to choose which items they want, rather than charity cases that receive a bag of food that contains the same items everyone else’s does regardless of preferences and needs.
Another major benefit of mobile food pantries is that they have the ability to meet the evolving needs of a community, such as by adding a new distribution site to address a food desert that’s lacking the resources required to help people in need. As mobile pantry programs grow, the gaps in service to food-insecure communities decreases.
Mobile food pantries work to alleviate hunger in a practical and efficient manner. The size of a mobile food pantry can vary greatly, but mobile food pantries can most often deliver healthy food to hundreds of families with each stop they make.
Just as with traditional food pantries, mobile food pantries rely on the help of volunteers to run smoothly. Volunteers are often able to sign up to work a shift for a few hours to assist with food distribution from the truck. If you’re interested in finding mobile food pantry volunteer opportunities in your area, find your local food bank and reach out to see how you can help.
Feeding Westchester’s Mobile Food Pantry program currently has about a dozen distributions scheduled each week, including truck deliveries to sites such as Pace University, St. Peter’s Church, and the Boys & Girls Club of Northern Westchester in Mount Kisco. Visit our mobile pantry calendar to learn more.