By Vicki Ikeogu
Three miles might not seem that far of a trip for many people to drive when it comes to visiting a grocery store.
But imagine having limited access to a personal car for those trips. Or having to coordinate a ride with a close friend or family member to help stock your pantry. Or having to make the journey on foot, pulling a wagon and holding a cooler on the way to get some basic food supplies.
It’s a reality Monticello Help Center’s Executive Director Sandy McClurg has witnessed during her seven-year tenure at the food shelf on Cedar Street.
A lack of reliable transportation to access food had become a problem.
“We know there are people who need our services and can’t get to us,” McClurg said. “A lot of it deals with transportation issues. But there are also some mobility issues. And some people are just too proud to accept the help.”
McClurg said monthly access to the food shelf has been a particular problem for some of the residents living in Kjellbergs Mobile Home Park.
“If they can’t get here for one reason or another then we aren’t helping them,” McClurg said.
That was part of the reason McClurg applied for a grant last August to help bring the food shelf to the people most in need.
For the past several years, McClurg said volunteers had already implemented a small scale mobile food shelf for residents in four assisted living facilities around Monticello. But there were severe limitations to the system.
“Many of our volunteers were driving their personal vehicles around,” McClurg said.
With about two dozen totes having to be loaded into several vehicles – or sometimes on multiple trips – it was a very inefficient way of providing the service.
“We were looking for a creative way to best serve our community,” McClurg said. “We wanted to get a van to deliver food in a consistent manner that would have enough room to fit all of the supplies in one trip.”
The Monticello Help Center was awarded funding to purchase the van last winter to help streamline the existing mobile food shelf system.
“We began using it right away,” McClurg said.
But around June, McClurg and other volunteers thought about a way to expand the mobile food shelf service to another vulnerable area, Kjellbergs Mobile Home Park.
“There are about 360 families that live in Kjellbergs,” McClurg said. “We think we have about 100 families using our services each month. So, we figured by going out to them we could make the food shelf more accessible.”
Unlike the current program already in place with the assisted living facilities – Monticello Help Center volunteers call each resident, take down their orders, box up the food and deliver it – McClurg wanted to literally bring the food shelf to Kjellbergs.
“We bring a bit of everything (to them),” McClurg said. “(That includes the) milk, eggs, cheese, a variety of meats and the fresh produce.”
One Thursday a month volunteers load up the large cargo van – which is outfitted with multiple shelving units and coolers – with products currently at the food shelf. The group then heads to Kjellbergs and goes door to door to residents who have identified they would like the delivery service. Food supplies are allocated exactly like it is at the shelter: the amount of food received by the participants is determined by the household size.
“They are being offered the same amount, the same types and the same variety of foods,” McClurg said.
As of right now, McClurg said the mobile food shelf serves about 10 Kjellbergs families. But as word continues to spread, she anticipates more families taking advantage of the supplemental food service.
“The reason we did this differently (than the service provided to the assisted living homes) is because we thought we would have a greater demand right away at Kjellbergs,” McClurg said. “But this is still a work in progress and will continue to evolve. We have already had several (Kjellbergs families) reach out to us to be added to the program.”
With a more efficient mobile food shelf program, McClurg hopes to identify other communities around Monticello that could benefit from an accessible food shelf on wheels in the near future.
“Ultimately our mission is to end hunger,” McClurg said. “There are needs in this community. We know we have work to do on our end to get the word out about the mobile food shelf. But our current clients are so thankful and appreciative for this option.”
Vicki Ikeogu is a freelance reporter for the Monticello Times.