Few would argue that fresh food is necessary for a sustainable and healthy lifestyle. But it's often expensive, making it difficult for low-income populations to both eat healthy and stay on budget.
Finding ways for Lincoln's most impoverished neighborhoods to access fresh fruits and vegetables has been one of the goals of the Food Bank of Lincoln. And this spring, it's taking its solutions on the road with Lincoln Fresh, a mobile produce operation involving local grocers and a bright-blue food truck.
"It's addressing the health disparities among our community due to factors such as poverty (and) limited access to healthy foods," said Kati Umberger, healthy food access coordinator at the food bank.
The food truck is part of a collaboration between the food bank and the Community Health Endowment, which in 2018 invested more than $950,000 to increase access to healthy foods in Lincoln.
"Access to healthy food, or lack thereof, correlates with poverty, obesity and lower life expectancy in Lincoln," said Lori Seibel, president and CEO of Community Health Endowment. "Our board sees this investment as critical to the long-term health and well-being of the city we love."
The truck makes biweekly stops at several sites around Lincoln, from church parking lots to community centers.
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"Really, we were just looking for places where perhaps people were already gathering in communities that were identified as having a little bit of a higher need for this type of resource," Umberger said.
The Community Health Endowment allocates funds to purchase the produce, but much of it comes to Lincoln Fresh in the form of donations from local grocery stores, including Russ's Market, Super Saver, Hy-Vee, Costco, Sam's Club, Walmart, Natural Grocers and Whole Foods. This allows grocers to get rid of their surplus produce without contributing to excessive food waste, said Michaella Kumke, communications director for Food Bank of Lincoln.
"It's a great partnership because we can get it, pick it up and get it out in a speedy process," she said.
Now three weeks in, Umberger said she is starting to see regulars show up at some locations.
"It's been wonderful to see the enthusiasm that's been growing around this program," she said. "In our first week we saw stops where we saw 60 people in the hour. One of the greatest things is when the kids have been coming to pick out their own fruit and then just biting right in and enjoying it on the spot."