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Delivering fresh produce to families
Second Harvest Food Bank worker Scott Tank helps carry a bag of produce for Jocelyn Libasbe during last Fridays stop at Lathrops Grace Community Church where families were provided with 20 pounds of free produce. - photo by HIME ROMERO

Single working moms and the elderly on extremely limited incomes are among the benefactors of the latest endeavor of the Manteca-based Second Harvest Food Bank — a mobile farmers market.

The biweekly “Mobile Fresh” program takes fresh produce secured with a grant through Sutter General Healthcare to strategic locations in communities. Current stops include the Sequoia Heights Baptist Church parking lot in Manteca and the Grace Community Church parking lot in Lathrop. A stop will soon be added in Tracy.

“We have found that people trying to make dollars stretch when buying groceries don’t have the money to afford fresh produce,” noted Jessica Vaughan who serves as the food bank’s community outreach coordinator.

Currently participants receive four crowns of broccoli, 10 pounds of apples, 10 pounds of oranges, two packages of celery, a head of cabbage, carrots, and a bag of potatoes.

Each time the mobile fresh truck returns to a neighborhood stop the number of people accessing it increases.

Income verification is required since the program specifically targets the low-income. Vaughan said a large number of the participants are working moms, grandparents who are now raising their grandchildren and the elderly who have little left over after paying for medication and other costs.

“Often time for some seniors it is a matter of paying for needed medicine making them come up short on money to buy food,” Vaughn told the Manteca Rotary Club during a meeting last week at Ernie’s Restaurant.

Second Harvest is not just distributing food. They are also educating.

They provide information on nutrition and recipes on how fresh produce they are distributing can be prepared.

“One lady had no idea what you could do with a  red potato,” Vaughan said. “Another was shocked to find out that there was a lot of sugar in fruit punch. She had been providing it to her kids because it has the word ‘fruit’ in the name.”

Second Harvest is in the process of modifying a used beer truck with slide up panels to make the distribution of produce easier.

The Manteca-based non-profit relies on corporate contributions as well as individual donations to obtain the 14 million pounds of food they distribute in a year to food banks in San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Merced and Gold Country counties. Some of the funds they raise are used to secure gigantic bins of produce that cost the food bank 6 cents to 20 cents a pound via the Farm to Family program that connects growers and packers directly to food bank for low cost fruit and vegetables. They aren’t considered marketable due to size, shape, being slightly blemished, or overproduction.

They also collect items from 98 retail sites that sell food to collect items nearing their expiration dates.

 While perishables such as dairy products do not last long afterwards, canned goods and packaged items typically have a useful life of six months to a year spending upon the food item.

There is little worry once the sorted items are provided to the 107 food banks of the food going bad. It is almost always consumed within weeks of reaching a food pantry.

Since 1976 when the Second Harvest operation was first established, they have had no food quality issues while adhering to strict guidelines of both the United States Department of Agriculture and the county health department.