Leah Porter set out to bring healthy, affordable food to people who don’t normally have access to it. Her Mobile Market accomplished that, but it brought a few surprises as well—a better connected and compassionate community.
The Mobile Market is a grocery store contained in a converted metro transit bus. “It’s literally a one aisle grocery store that sells fresh fruits and vegetables, meat, dairy items like milk, eggs, cheese and yogurt and basic dry goods,” Porter told a recent gathering of the Minneapolis League of Women Voters Civic Buzz. The Mobile Market has no junk food. No chips or pop. Everything is priced at below market prices. Affordability is key to food access.
“Food deserts” are neighborhoods more than a mile from a grocery store in the metro area and more than 10 miles in the suburbs. When food is that far away, it can be hard for the elderly to walk and carry home groceries — particularly in the winter. But that’s not the primary audience. Families without cars are the main clients of the mobile market. It makes 33 stops within the Twin Cities metro area. Most of the stops are apartment buildings.
“89% of our customers say that they have more access to healthy food as a direct result of of the mobile market,” said Porter. The same number also said they are preparing healthier meals and snacks at home as a result of the mobile market. But the surprising side effect of the mobile market was 82% of the customers now feel more connected with community and neighbors. That’s because the mobile market has become a place to meet and get to know each other.
And the more they get to know each other, the better things get.
Tears Of Joy
“We were at one of our stops and a woman came on and she had three small kids upstairs in the apartment and she was out of money for the month and had nothing. And she was really upset. And several of the customers on the bus had these gift cards that we had given away as part of a raffle at one point in time. And they were gift cards to the mobile market and several people gave her their gift cards and they added up to $100, which you can get a lot of food on the mobile market for $100. And so she left there carrying tons of bags of food and she got off the bus and just broke down and wept.”
“And that was about her neighbors stepping up and being there for her. “
“So it gives me hope for, especially in the climate that we’re in right now, for people looking out for each other and being kind and compassionate. When you provide a platform for people to come together and gather, food is just such a natural way for people to come together. It can have a big difference.”
The program was launched in December 2014 with one bus in St. Paul. A second now serves Minneapolis. Two more buses are in the works. The Amherst H. Wilder foundation helped launch the program; it is also supported by the SuperValu Foundation, Hormel National Choice and a number of other foundations. They operate out of a St. Paul warehouse. They were able to arrange a contract with SuperValu even though their volume is less than the normal $10,000/week minimum. They are also able to purchase some items from a local Cub store at a discount.
The Mobile Market website is www.twincitiesmobilemarket.org