On a recent Saturday afternoon a volunteer placed a shopping bag filled with 30 pounds of fresh produce, pasta and canned and dry goods onto a pallet, along with 649 other similarly filled bags.
For the past few hours 60 volunteers, including hospital workers, high school and college students and other community members, filled the bags, in an assembly line as part of MelroseWakefield Hospital’s North Suburban Women, Infant and Children (WIC) Mobile Food Market. The process, made up of equal parts efficiency, effectiveness, hard work and caring, has been repeated each month for the past ten years.
Since 2012 the award-winning Mobile Food Market based in Malden has served thousands of families in local communities, providing high-quality, nutritious produce and staple pantry items for free to community members in need, in partnership with the cities of Malden and Medford, the Greater Boston Food Bank, and a local chapter of ZONTA, an international service agency.
“The Mobile Market is an example of our commitment to addressing a local need by partnering with the Greater Boston Food Bank to bring healthy food to those experiencing food insecurity,” said Eileen Dern, Director of Community Services at MelroseWakefield Hospital. “Food is one of the most important components of health. Anytime we can put healthy food on a family’s table we are improving their chances to live a healthier life.”
Food insecurity in eastern Massachusetts is a significant issue, affecting one of every 13 adults and one of every 11 children. To address these high food insecurity rates, the farmers-market style distribution offers healthy grocery options, which are provided by the Greater Boston Food Bank to approximately 650 diverse, low-income families (nearly 3,000 individuals) each month.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the market shifted to a delivery service to ensure food was available and that families, staff and volunteers remained safe. Each month community partners work with the hospital to ensure deliveries of hard produce and shelf stable panty items to the most at-risk individuals and families. Additionally, COVID-19 test kits, warm socks, and health information in multiple languages were shared in the deliveries.
In addition to providing food to those in need, hospital staff and partner agencies offer additional health services, including blood pressure and blood sugar screenings, flu vaccinations, and information about enrollment in SNAP benefits, health insurance and WIC services to name a few. More than 60 MelroseWakefield Hospital and community volunteers regularly support the program.
In 2016, the Mobile Food Market received the prestigious Hospital Charitable Services Award, a national program sponsored by Atlanta-based Jackson Healthcare presented to hospital-sponsored community health programs for their innovative approaches to impacting the lives in local communities around the nation.
The Mobile Food Market has been used as a model for the development of more than eight other food markets in Massachusetts and is a catalyst to address the community-wide issue of food insecure vulnerable populations, including families, elders, immigrants, and individuals affected by chronic health issues, unemployment, or other adverse situations such as housing or family situations. Eileen Dern serves as a member of the Greater Boston Food Bank’s Health and Research Council whose purpose is to advise the food bank’s community-based research, programming, and policy work.
For more information or to learn how to volunteer for the Mobile Food Market, please call 781-338-7576.
Tufts Medicine Formerly Wellforce