Originally billed as a “rain or shine or snow” event, the mobile market managed by the Greater New Bedford Community Health Center can now claim that it will remain open in the event of inclement weather – or a global pandemic.
The monthly mobile market, which provides free produce to the public, has been in operation in New Bedford for a little over a year. Back in March, just days after the market celebrated its one-year anniversary, the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic was beginning to take shape in America.
The health center’s parking lot, where the market had been previously held, transformed into a COVID-19 testing site, and the mobile market switched locations in May to the parking lot of the Times Square building on Purchase Street. The health center received additional support and manpower from the United Way of Greater New Bedford to stay operational.
“We couldn’t cancel the food market. It’s too important,” said Joyce Dupont, the health center’s Director of Wellness.
The monthly market now requires that customers wear masks and practice social distancing. But, despite the countless cancellations brought on by the coronavirus, the outdoor market remained open for those who rely on the service.
The project is made possible through a collaboration between the Greater New Bedford Community Health Center, the United Way of Greater New Bedford and the Greater Boston Food Bank. Each customer will receive about 30 pounds of fresh produce. The health center distributes to nearly 300 people a month and any leftover produce is donated to the Salvation Army.
There are no income guidelines to take part in the market, and that’s by design. Dupont said the Greater Boston Food Bank wanted to ensure the market was for everyone. Customers may encounter a patient standing in line next to a doctor.
The market initially opened in the City because the health center identified food insecurity as a “huge need” in the community. Moreover, they found that many of their patients are living with diabetes or hypertension. By offering free produce, the center hopes to encourage the public to modify their eating habits, which in turn could reduce the rate of chronic disease in the patient population.
“A lot of families can’t afford fresh produce,” Dupont said. “Having access to fresh fruit and vegetables will help improve their lives.”
This spring, the center was trying out a new approach to food distribution. Dupont said that after she joined the Age-Friendly New Bedford project, she realized that many older citizens wouldn’t be able to take advantage of the market because they are unable to attend.
The center worked with the New Bedford Housing Authority and the New Bedford Council on Aging to deliver food to various housing locations, including Olympia Towers, Car Barn Apartments and King Village Apartments.
Another option is door delivery. Volunteer Martin Bentz, Outreach Coordinator at the Islamic Society of Southeastern Massachusetts, made a few door deliveries for those who were unable to travel to the market themselves.
“It’s a rewarding experience to be able to help, and I wish I could do more,” said Bentz. “If more people called and asked for the service, I’d be happy to deliver.”
Dupont said that moving forward, she would like to identify more volunteers who can help run the market and its deliveries.
“The need is so great, and it takes a lot of manpower. We’re in desperate need of volunteers,” said Dupont. “The more seniors we can reach, the better.”
The Greater New Bedford Community Health Center’s next Mobile Market will be held on June 8 from 10 a.m. to noon at the Times Square building parking lot, 888 Purchase St. Pre-registration is strongly encouraged. Those who do not pre-register must wait until the end of the market to shop. To register, call Joyce Dupont at 508-992-6553 ext. 142.
Please leave the following info: Name, date of birth, number of people in household, ZIP code, and phone number.
Follow the health center on Facebook: facebook.com/gnbchc.