In the United States, more than a quarter of our edible food supply goes to waste each year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. And recent reports say that 37 million Americans receive emergency food assistance. In Arizona, one in five adults struggles with hunger—and the statistic is even more dire for children: one in four.
While food banks and government programs provide assistance, most require that families meet minimum requirements based on federal poverty guidelines. With every such program, there are outliers who don't qualify, yet still need help.
In Tucson and Phoenix, a nonprofit called Market on the Move is attempting to serve their needs.
Market on the Move, also known as MOM, is a mobile farmers' market that pops up in multiple locations in metro Phoenix and Tucson each weekend. MOM is a venture of the 3000 Club, another nonprofit that works to combat hunger and provide medical supplies to organizations in need.
Working with produce-growers and distributors in Willcox and Nogales, MOM is able to reclaim and distribute more than 30 million pounds of produce each year that would have otherwise gone to a landfill. The distributed produce is classified as "70 percent," says Gail Topolinski, a volunteer for Southwest Medical Aid (a nonprofit that partners with the 3000 Club) who regularly staffs MOM events. Such "70 percent" produce may be misshapen or blemished, or it may be too ripe to make it through the long process of harvesting, distribution, shipping, and grocery-store shelf life, she says.
"We make sure that the produce never goes to waste unless it has to," says Topolinski. "We're like a pre-waste-management system."
MOM events are held weekly at various locations around town, mostly at churches, and The Giving Tree is one of the newest regular MOM locations. Rodney Williams, director of The Giving Tree, says that the program is serving a different type of community—those who live in impoverished neighborhoods and are unlikely to be able to get to a food bank. So a food bank comes to them.
Although The Giving Tree already has feeding programs for the homeless, "this serves a different need," Williams says. "We're feeding the neighborhoods here—the people who can't make it out of their house because of a disability, or for other reasons."
For $10, participants can fill a box with up to 60 pounds of produce. The selection varies from week to week, but a typical haul might include tomatoes, squash, eggplant and several kinds of peppers. Participants also can buy a $100 annual membership that allows them to pick up produce once a week.
"The produce season for Nogales runs from about October to May," Williams says. "So that's 32 weeks of potential produce for $100, and as MOM progresses, there are plans to introduce events during the summer as well."
Brittany Lindsey, recently unemployed, was picking up produce at Market on the Move on a recent day, both for herself and to distribute to homeless children. She's also a board member at The Giving Tree.
"God tells us that we're supposed to be doers," she says. "Rodney found out about Market on the Move and got The Giving Tree involved immediately. I think it's awesome, connecting produce that would otherwise go to waste with those people who need it, whether it's homeless kids or people who happen to be unemployed, like myself."
Amanda Thurber and her young daughter were also picking up a large box of produce. Thurber's husband is in the Air Force, and she says she found out about Market on the Move through some military-family support groups on Facebook.
"It's really hard to eat healthy on a tight budget," she says. "This is a great program, because it makes it easier for us to cook and eat healthier meals."
The 3000 Club has been hosting Market on the Move since 2010. This year, it has partnered with churches and other nonprofit organizations to open about 10 locations each weekend during the produce season and distribute more than 200,000 pounds of produce weekly.
Locations of upcoming Market on the Move events are posted on the 3000 Club's website, www.the3000club.org.