Her investment was just a few apples.
But to the staff and sponsors of Flint Fresh Mobile Market the customer’s first purchase was priceless.
“I’m buying these with the couple dollars I have,” the woman said, “because I really believe in what you’re doing and I really want you to succeed.”
The market wasn’t yet equipped to accept EBT card purchases, so the woman spent the only cash she had, recalls YMCA of Greater Flint’s Pam Bailey. Along with the Community Foundation of Greater Flint and other partner organizations, the YMCA recently rolled the traveling grocer into Flint neighborhoods to address nutrition issues and limited shopping options.
The effort is a long-range strategy to sustain residents after the community’s municipal water-related philanthropic programs wane.
“This free food that’s coming into Flint is not going to be here forever. It’s a stop gap,” says Bailey. “When it leaves what’s going to be left? This is about lifelong improvements to our community.”
The market’s hours are 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Locations are listed and updated at the website flintfresh.com.
Flint Fresh Mobile Market offerings include pre-made salads, sandwiches, fruit, vegetables, lentils and other dry goods. About 40 different produce items and some non-perishables are sold. Cheese, eggs, and meat will be included later, Bailey says.
“This is about lifelong improvements to our community.” -Pam Bailey, YMCA of Greater Flint
The goal is to not only serve customers at affordable prices in under-served areas, she adds, but to influence new store investment and replace grocery chains that left the city.
“I think it’s the law of supply and demand. Businesses follow where the money goes,” Bailey says. “Maybe they’ll say, ‘Hey, we should go back to Flint.’”
Program collaborators like The Local Grocer, Neighborhood Engagement Hub, and Flint Food Works help support Flint Fresh Mobile Market, which is staffed by a manager and assistant. The goal is to create a self-sustaining enterprise within three to five years.
Flint Fresh Mobile Market contributes to Michigan’s economy by selling about 90 percent of its food from produce grown within 100 miles of Flint.
While the State of Michigan sponsors a free food truck that distributes to neighborhoods monthly, Flint Fresh Mobile offers variety at costs comparable to those of grocery stores and offers the Double Up Food Bucks bonus to Bridge Card-carriers.
“It’s keeping money in our community, which is another issue that Flint has gone through,” Bailey says. “There’s something dignified in being able to go and select the produce you want, and pulling out money from your wallet to buy things.
“I was at the market today and I had a lady come up to me and ask, ‘Do you have green tomatoes?’ I said, ‘No, but we’ll try to have them for next time.’”
With help from consultants like Dr. Rick Sadler, an assistant professor in the Department of Family Medicine at Michigan State University, Flint Fresh Mobile continues to identify the most appropriate locations to park the truck, according to need and demographics like age, along with neighborhood-specific nutritional issues. The plan is to operate year-round.
Ultimately, the effort should help lift Genesee County from his second-to-last ranking of number 81 in the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s list of Michigan’s most health-challenged counties, Bailey says.
Kathi Hornton, president of Community Foundation of Greater Flint, says a team effort, including funding from Blue Cross Blue Shield and the Tides Foundation, has given life to the vision for the Flint Fresh Mobile Market.
“We are deeply appreciative to the wonderful partnerships that are bringing this project to fruition,” says Horton. “Through cooperative efforts such as this, we will continue to help children and the families of Flint make healthy food choices, and assist in their long-term recovery from lead poisoning.”
Bailey says the concept itself is inspiring, as demonstrated by the woman who spent her last two dollars on apples.
“I think people want good stories about Flint,” says Bailey. “They want to see us taking control of our own destinies and becoming healthy.”
Photos courtesy of Flint Fresh