VERO BEACH - On March 17, Treasure Coast Food Bank launched Market Fresh on the Move, a healthy food access program to make it easier for low-income families to obtain nutritious food by bringing a mobile grocery store to their neighborhoods.

The rolling grocery store is equipped with shelves and cold storage to hold thousands of pounds of fresh, nutritious food. It will visit food deserts, neighborhoods that lack easy access to grocery stores, so people can shop for high-quality, nutritious grocery items at low cost. It is expected to provide 200,000 meals in Indian River County during its first year of service.

In addition to healthy food, the Market Fresh on the Move program brings a benefits specialist to the neighborhoods to help people enroll in SNAP, formerly known as food stamps, as well as nutritional education and healthy cooking demonstrations from the vehicle’s on-board kitchen.

Indian River County became the first area in South Florida for the innovative program.

“We are so fortunate and thankful for the funding support provided by Indian River Impact 100, Indian River Community Foundation, and John’s Island Foundation,” said TCFB President and CEO Judith Cruz. “They embraced this vision and understood the importance of providing access to healthy food.”

Individuals on hand for the ribbon-cutting got a chance to tour the mobile market and enjoy a healthy lunch created in the onboard kitchen. Treasure Coast Food Bank also provided meals for the students in the Boys & Girls Club’s after-school program.

“There are four barriers for people who struggle to get healthy food,” said Ms. Cruz. “The first is how much somebody earns. The second is geography, where somebody lives and how far they have to go to get nutritious food. The third is education. A lot of people aren’t familiar with how to prepare healthy meals at low cost. And the fourth is competition from inexpensive places. It’s easy to go to a $1 menu to get something to eat. It fills your belly, doesn’t cost much. But it’s not really nutritious. Market Fresh will help overcome these barriers by providing affordable choices and bringing the grocery store directly to the people who need it most.”

Indian River County has nearly 7,000 households with incomes below the poverty line. Fewer than 5,000 are enrolled in SNAP, with many more eligible. With limited household incomes, families often opt for cheap, unhealthy food either to stretch their food budgets or because healthier options are not available. The mobile market allows them to shop for healthy food right in their neighborhoods, and for those who are eligible, enables them to access SNAP and expand their household budgets. Their purchasing power will be doubled when buying fresh produce because of Treasure Coast Food Bank’s participation in Feeding Florida’s Fresh Access Bucks program.

Using extensive data analysis, Treasure Coast Food Bank, a member of Feeding America, has identified areas with few or no grocery stores as the primary focus for Market Fresh on the Move’s service routes. But any Indian River County resident is welcome to shop at the mobile grocery store. All earned revenue will be reinvested into the program.

Market Fresh on the Move is the newest of more than 20 direct-service programs by Treasure Coast Food Bank to address the underlying issues of hunger and the root causes of poverty.

For more information, call (772) 489-3034, visit stophunger.org or facebook.com/tcfoodbank, or follow TCFB at twitter.com/tcfoodbank.

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