Malden Observer

May 17, 2013

By Nathan Lamb

There’s a popular new food truck in Malden — and it’s bringing healthy groceries to those who might otherwise have gone hungry.

The Mobile Food Market was in town May 11, providing bread, produce and frozen meat for more than 460 people in need of food.

In practice, registered patrons choose from a selection of eight to 10 food items, with the average family taking away roughly 30 pounds of groceries.

“It’s meant to be very much like a farmer’s market,” said Hallmark Health Director of Community Services Eileen Dern. “It’s really a very warm and welcoming environment.”

The monthly program came to Malden last August and has quickly caught on, becoming one of the largest mobile markets in the state. The Mobile Food Market is operated by the Greater Boston Food Bank, which forms local partnerships to bring the service to communities across eastern Massachusetts.

The Malden Food Market is done in collaboration with local WIC (Women, Infants, Children) program, which provides nutrition information and healthy food to eligible families.

The WIC program at 239 Commercial St. is administered by Hallmark Health, and Dern said the mobile market was another great way to promote well being.

“As a hospital, we often find that food and health are so tied together so it was really important for us to look….at how we could serve the greater community,” she said.

The two programs are also connected by Kendra Bird, who formerly worked at the Malden WIC site, but is now director of distribution services and nutrition for the Greater Boston Food Bank. While the Mobile Food Market is open to the general public, she said it helps reach a key demographic.

“Given that WIC is such an excellent program and serves children ages 0-5, we felt that it would be a nice complement to bring additional services to the families by assisting them with their food needs for the entire family and especially providing them with fresh produce,” she said.

Explaining how the partnership works, Bird said the food bank brings the truck and food, while the local partners handle distribution logistics, such as taking registrations.

The Zonta Club is of Malden is another local partner, with its members regularly volunteering to help run the market.

Bird stressed registration for the program is important, saying that’s what’s used to determine how much food is brought to Malden. She added it’s fairly simple: patrons can call to register, and are only required to tell the demographic makeup of their homes (number of adults, children and seniors), along with the last four digits of their phone number. She said it’s kept basic for a reason.

“The assumption is that if somebody is coming to a food pantry, they are in need,” she said.

Organizers for the mobile market say it’s also intended to help those who are falling through the cracks on other aid programs. The clientele includes the working poor, the disabled and families on government assistance.

Bird said middle class families are increasingly using such services, given both the economy and high cost of living in the greater Boston area.

Dern cited food bank research indicating 37 percent food bank patrons are force to chose between paying for food or medicine, saying the mobile market fills a vital niche.

“Food is so important to health,” she said. “Giving [children] that good start in life really has been shown to improve the overall health of the community as well.”

In general, Bird said the food bank is putting a greater focus on providing healthy food, adding they’ve gotten away from providing things like canned vegetable, which are high in sodium.

“We focus on fresh items as it is important to serve clients high quality, nutritious items,” she said. “Depending on the clientele of each mobile market, we try to tailor the products that we provide.  For the WIC Market we will add items such as baby food, when available, given that there are so many children served by this particular market.”

The Mobile Food Market visits the Malden WIC office the second Saturday of each month.

For more information about the Mobile Food Market, call 781-338-7568.

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