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Monthly mobile food program brings produce to local residents

(Erica Lowenkron/ Daily Collegian)

A brisk autumn afternoon and a tight sense of community may be staples of life in Amherst, Massachusetts. What better example of that than Amherst’s monthly Mobile Food Program?

On Wednesday afternoon, 120 people waited in line in the parking lots of Southpoint Apartments at 266 East Hadley Rd., where food items ranging from apples to cabbages and carrots to kale were available to anyone with the bags to carry them.

Wednesday saw the second largest crowd the program has seen since it began in February.

The program, a partnership between the Amherst Survival Center, the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts and Southpoint Apartments, brings both food and community members together on the first Wednesday of every month. Anyone is eligible to take advantage of the opportunity, regardless of their income, housing status or background.

“There’s more than enough food to go around,” said an attendee of the program, who declined to identify himself beyond his first name, Anthony. Anthony heard about the program through his girlfriend, who used to volunteer with the Survival Center, and now attends once every few months.

“It’s just a shame to see [the food] all go to waste,” he said. “We throw away so much, we have enough food to feed half the planet.”

Food insecurity affects more than 223,000 people in Western Massachusetts, according to the Western Massachusetts Food Bank. While the majority of food relief comes from member agencies of the Food Bank, Mobile Food Bank programs distributed almost 1.2 million pounds of food in fiscal year 2016.

Since the Mobile Food Program in Amherst began, over 25,000 pounds of food have been distributed to nearly 3,000 people, according to Mindy Domb, the executive director of the Amherst Survival Center.

Trends show that since February, turnout for the Amherst program has nearly doubled. According to Penny Coy, who was on site to coordinate the Mobile Food Program, the growth has been noteworthy.

“We’ve had a lot of people recently,” said Coy, sharing that Wednesday’s turnout was the second highest to date. Coy attributed the growth to increased publicity about the program, and noted that she sees a lot of familiar faces each month as many people come back.

Dale Rice, an Amherst resident and retiree, and one of about a dozen volunteers at the event, said she has volunteered extensively for the Amherst survival center and the Mobile Food Program in the past year.

“I’m a big supporter of the Amherst Survival Center and everything they do,” said Rice, standing in front of a large bin of potatoes she would be distributing. Rice has volunteered with the program since it began. Since she moved to Amherst 10 years ago, she has been involved as a volunteer for food distribution, the local food pantry and for Meals on Wheels.

Next to Rice stood Ruth Pullen, also a retiree, who was volunteering with the program for the first time. She was responsible for distributing carrots and cauliflower to the waiting crowd.

Pullen heard about the opportunity to volunteer through RSVP Volunteers, a volunteer coordinating service for people aged 55 or older that partners retirees with local nonprofits.

“I have a few hours [to volunteer],” Pullen said. “I have enough to eat, so why not help people who may need it?”

The next distribution for the program will be at Southpoint Apartments on Dec. 6 from 1-2 p.m.

Will Soltero can be reached at wsoltero@umass.edu and followed on Twitter @WillSoltero.

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