YOUNGSTOWN — The Mobile Market Initiative in Mahoning Valley aims to deliver groceries to the city's most vulnerable residents by 2022.
The initiative launched Tuesday with a goal to secure a bus to set up shop in different areas of the city to allow people to purchase healthy groceries at low prices.
Rose Carter, executive director of ACTION, said Youngstown has been a food desert for the past six years.
“We want to be able to make it as comfortable and convenient, especially our most vulnerable and handicapped people, as possible,” Carter said.
Mayor Jamael Tito Brown has acknowledged the city is a food desert, she said. Brown has also discussed luring a grocery store to Youngstown through the $82.7 million the city is receiving from the American Rescue Plan.
Carter said while the city waits for the grocery store, alternative plans have been made to help residents get the food they need through pop-up markets and now the Mobile Market Initiative.
“We decided and saw that we needed to have groceries [brought] to our most vulnerable people,” Carter said.
Over the past three years, the pop-up markets have helped feed more than 8,000 people, Carter said. Pop-up markets will continue in the city through September.
Vicki Vicars, an organizer with ACTION, said mobile marking is a growing trend in urban areas across the country where food insecurity is an issue.
She said the group looked at other models across the country, including Stark County, to see what vehicle should be purchased and how the program would operate.
The initiative is currently in negotiations with two different companies to purchase a bus for the Mobile Market. Locations for the bus to make stops are also being determined, and the list includes churches and libraries.
The initiative would bring a bus to different parts of the city to allow people to purchase groceries with cash, credit card, SNAP benefits or vouchers.
Vicars said the Mobile Market could quadruple the number of people the pop-up markets serve by taking the bus to more locations more frequently and offer more food with freezers and refrigerators on the bus.
“Right now, the initial stages are acquiring funding,” Vicars said.
Vicars said the initiative is looking to raise about $500,000.
About $200,000 would be used to purchase the bus, hire someone to manage the service and purchase produce. About $300,000 would be used to create a voucher program so people with economic disadvantages and health issues can obtain food for free from the vehicle.
The Mobile Market will be funded through grants, private donors and individuals in the community through the Stock the Truck GoFundMe page.
The initiative is sponsored by ACTION and Flying High with partners including Mercy Health, MYCAP, Youngstown City Health District, Northeast Ohio United Methodist District, Healthy Community Partnerships, YNDC and Eastern Gateway Community College.
Organizers hope to have the Mobile Market opened by the beginning of 2022.