It’s 7:30 a.m. on President’s Day, and Foodshare driver Alan Prior is loading potatoes onto one of the agency’s two Mobile Foodshare trucks for the day’s deliveries. Today’s plan: deliver to three Hartford-area locations, where volunteers will be waiting to help distribute fresh produce and bread.
That volunteer commitment will be appreciated more than usual today, because it’s bitterly cold outside. Temperatures have been in the single digits for days in Greater Hartford, raising one of the big issues for millions of Americans who deal with hunger and food insecurity — do I use my limited resources to buy food, or to heat my home?
In weather conditions such as this, you realize just what a difficult choice that is.
But the volunteers are out and waiting for the truck when it pulls into the parking lot at Cambridge Park Apartments in Bristol, just before 9 a.m. Inside is produce donated to Foodshare — fruits and veggies that would have gone to waste mostly because it didn’t fit into the complicated supply logistics of the food wholesale system.
Usually, Prior says, there’s a line queued up for the truck. In the summer at some afternoon stops, clients will line up for hours for a delivery, he says. Foodshare distributes 5 million pounds of produce annually, and 3 million pounds of that goes to the community through the Mobile Foodshare program.
With the truck parked and open for business, groups of three and four clients make their way to the truck from the nearby apartments or from the parked cars where they’ve been keeping warm. They bring their own shopping bags or small carts and make their way around the truck, collecting beets, potatoes, carrots, onions, sweet potatoes apples and a loaf of bread. They chat with the volunteers and most say “thank you” before heading on their way.
Prior says a lot has changed since the program started. “We did a lot of bulk produce drops at first," he recalls. “We’d build a pallet, drop it at the site and leave.”
But that left distribution to the community-based volunteer organizations that partner with Foodshare to help solve hunger in Hartford and Tolland counties. That was harder on the volunteers, and it wasn’t as efficient.
The mobile food trucks, made possible by the Chase Family Foundations, make the experience easier. Each produce item has its own compartment along the side, and in one full lap, clients can stock up and be on their way. It takes just 45 minutes to distribute the contents to a crowd of 300-400 clients, Prior says.
Furthermore, it gives the community coordinators the chance to meet with the clients. This way, Prior explains, “It’s like the community serving the community.”
With the delivery over, it’s back into the cab for the next stop.
Yes, it’s really cold, Prior agrees. “But we served 28 people. Twenty-eight people came out in that weather. Isn’t that cool?”