Program brings nutrition to people’s doorsteps

ROCHESTER — The Curbside Market has been making a positive impression on city residents since Foodlink embarked on its new mission in early July.

"This (program) is going really well so far," said David Krebs, who drives the Curbside Market truck and helps prepare its shelves of low-cost produce for city residents to purchase.

"We’ve been received with smiles and excitement almost everywhere we pull up," Krebs said after parking the truck in front of Andrews Terrace on St. Paul Street on July 18.

For José González of Santulce, Puerto Rico, the truck has helped him stretch his food budget.

He popped into the truck at Andrews Terrace, where González has lived for the past seven years, to stock up on grapes, lettuce and tomatoes. That $5 worth of produce more than likely would have cost double in a grocery store, he said.

"This is a great help for the community," he said. "A lot of people are not able to go out shopping."

To serve that population of city residents who are elderly or disabled is how the Curbside Truck came to be, explained Mitch Gruber, Foodlink’s community food access coordinator.

The program is part of the Growing Communities initiative, which is a partnership between Foodlink, Pathstone, the city of Rochester, Marketview Heights Association and Citizens Bank. In June, bank officials presented a $121,500 check to support Growing Communities’ programs, which aim to provide access to healthy food, youth development, nutrition and financial education programs for residents in Marketview Heights.

With the grant money, Foodlink purchased the truck and the refrigeration required to provide a "produce aisle on wheels," Gruber said.

"The vast majority of folks (served) have a hard time accessing a farm stand four blocks away or a grocery story 10 blocks away," he added. "We come right to their doorstep."

The truck makes stops at all of the Rochester Housing Authority’s sites as well as those affiliated with Anthony Jordan Health Center, he said.

"For some of our residents, transportation is difficult for them," said Alex Castro, the housing authority’s executive director. "A lot of the challenges our residents face is accessibility, and that (truck) takes care of that. It takes care of accessibility and affordability. … And mostly, the stuff they’re going to provide is produce, which very difficult for our residents to obtain."

The Curbside program also is another step in Foodlink’s efforts over the past four years to serve neighborhoods designated by the U.S. government as "food deserts," Gruber said, which have no access to fresh produce. Foodlink began with farm stands in 12 areas that continue to operate, he added.

"But still, we had a huge number of people we … can’t reach because of a lack of mobility to go to the corner or to the park," he said. "The best way to reach that population is to bring the (produce) stand to them."

The program also helps out the local agricultural industry, as all the food available on the truck is purchased from area farmers, said Gruber and Krebs.

"There are no oranges, no bananas," Gruber said. "All fruits are local."

That commitment to providing healthy food choices produced by farmers is what makes the program sustainable, noted Krebs.

"This could turn into something that could stick around," he added.

New York state also has gotten on board with Foodlink’s initiatives and has provided $2 coupons to offer to residents who purchase $5 worth of produce and are enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), explained Gruber.

In the first week of the Curbside program, more than 100 of those coupons were given out, he said.

James Dispenza, a Rochester resident who grabbed a quick bag of vegetables at Andrews Terrace before hopping on a bus, said that the city desperately needs more programs like the Curbside Market.

"We have to start feeding more people," he said. "God gave us the demand to take care of the poor … and we’re not doing it."

EDITOR’S NOTE: For information about the Curbside Market, call 585-328-3380 or visit http://foodlinkny.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/foodaccessschedules.pdf.

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