• Caring Hearts Admin

Mobile food pantry returns with blemished, but safe and free food

TERRI HARBER, The Daily News Jun 11, 2019

This picture of produce that’s good tasting but not picture perfect was posted on the Facebook page for WOW! Mobile Pantry last year. The organization will be setting up once a month at Rotary Park — at least until Caring Hearts Food Ministry finds a new headquarters.

BULLHEAD CITY — The WOW! Mobile Pantry will be held at Rotary Park on Friday, June 21, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. The group will set up at the park by the Firebird Field outdoor ramada.

The program is for those seeking free, fresh produce that’s good to eat but not perfect looking.

Fruits and vegetables with blemishes, or that are irregularly shaped or not appropriately sized, is passed over by food distributors and sellers. But people who struggle to put healthy foods on their table can look to this event as a place to load up with healthy produce.

Also available will be an array of packaged goods and pantry staples.

“Are you interested in higher food value? Is it difficult managing your food budget for nutritious fruits and vegetables?” asked WOW! director Betty Rae. “Put more plants on your plate.”

People can choose up to 30 pounds —depending on the quantities delivered before these events it could reach 60 pounds— of produce and pantry items for free.

Client sign-up is done at the event. Anyone is allowed to participate.

It’s described as a farmers market-style food distribution program. People are asked to bring a rolling cart, cooler with wheels, wheelbarrow or dolly so they can move the food with the least amount of effort.

There are some carts and boxes but at an event that can attract hundreds of people, it’s best to come prepared.

Seniors and disabled people can get help putting their packages together.

Up to 39 varieties of produce are rescued throughout the season. And some of these are organic. WOW! Mobile Pantry distribution can have six to 14 different produce items, depending on seasonal availability, Rae noted in the announcement for June’s event.

The group will be at Rotary Park on the third Friday of each month through September, Rae said.

Organizers are looking for a long-term site in the Fort Mohave/Mohave Valley area. Demand for food has increased so much that the operation requires a significantly larger building to serve as headquarters for Caring Hearts Food Bank Ministry, which is the umbrella organization for WOW! Rae also is Caring Hearts’ executive director.

While the goal is for Caring Hearts to be in a new location by the fall, it might take longer to find the right building than originally anticipated.

However, many people seem to like the distribution set-up at Rotary Park, including Rae herself. This partnership with the city is something her organization values.

“It’s a place where families could make a day of it,” she said. “We’re very excited to be there.”

Rae painted a picture of the possibilities: While someone stands in line, someone else can make a coffee run. The children can play in the park.

Perhaps the family can have a picnic — and eat some of the food they’ve received — before crossing off some other errands on their to-do list or returning home.

Rotary Park is large enough to accommodate WOW! by having it move under a different ramada if someone books an event at that spot. Having a covered area will make summer weather more bearable, Rae noted.

Some people arrive as early as 5 a.m. to be near the front of the line. She explained there are customers who drive in from Kingman, Needles and Searchlight. Some of these people are picking up items for others in their communities.

One person may be designated as the attendee from among a group of seniors, for example.

The goal of the nonprofit is to serve at least 400 households, which allows it to operate as a mobile pantry in this area, which has been identified as a food desert. And it is exceeding that goal by serving about 500 households.

A community assessment by the Western Arizona Council of Governments in 2016 indicated that 17% of people in Mohave County had limited access to healthy foods while 19% were unable to access food at least once during the past year.

In 2018, WOW! provided about 1.4 million pounds of produce to 25,000 families.

Once Caring Hearts has a new headquarters and adequate food storage, WOW! might venture into some smaller food distribution events that focus on a portion of a community or even a neighborhood.

Living in the Tri-state isn’t a requirement.

Not being wasteful is highly encouraged. The idea behind bringing tasty but imperfect looking produce to those who want — and often need it — is to put it into people’s stomach instead of landfills.

If you can’t consume all of the food you receive, give it to someone else.

“Pool your resources and share with neighbors, friends, family, or someone who is in need,” Rae said.

Also needed are volunteers to help set up the pantry. People willing to do such things as work in extreme weather, get dirty, cut produce, and do so while following safety, health and other rules are urged to help WOW! allow people to eat better.

Volunteers also comb through the delivery and remove items they see that aren’t suitable for distribution.

Donations are welcome but not required. These go to the Caring Hearts.

One of the items sought is a refrigerated truck. That will help greatly with transporting food, and for future WOW! events.

For more information, contact Rae at 928-758-7689.


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