Tampa YMCA Veggie Van Food Relief Efforts
In communities across the nation and here in Tampa Bay, the Y is a leading voice when it comes to conversations on health and well-being. We support those conversations by offering healthy living programs that focus on chronic disease and obesity prevention. This focus improves the overall health of the community and lowers healthcare costs. To that end, the Tampa Y offers the Veggie Van, a community benefit program that ensures that individuals in need will receive timely access to nutritious food. This is especially critical in our community as only about 16 percent of residents in Hillsborough and Pasco Counties meet the recommended five-a-day servings of fruit and vegetables (Tampa General Hospital, 2016 Community Health Needs Assessment; Pasco County, 2016 Community Food System Assessment).
With the COVID-19 pandemic leading to empty shelves of essentials at grocery stores, individuals in food deserts and food swamps who use the Tampa YMCA’s Veggie Van services are among those unable to obtain fresh produce and pantry staples. We will be adding additional non-perishable items to each stop the Veggie Van makes, and, pending receipt of emergency funding, we will be able to increase stops from twice a month to weekly. We will serve 500 families per month in our existing service areas (Sulphur Springs, Tampa Heights, Lacoochee, Wimauma, Plant City and Dover).
At the Veggie Van stops, families will receive two produce bags as usual, with their membership fee waived, in addition to a bag of non-perishables. We have waived the $4 monthly membership fee to reduce the barrier to access at this unprecedented time and stop one more avenue for transmission of the Coronavirus. Many of our clients are low-wage workers who may be out of work at this time and facing additional hardships while their children are out of school.
The Veggie Van is taking additional measures to ensure staff and client safety during the COVID-19 pandemic. We have waived the registration and data collection process at this time in order to reduce the amount of time people are gathered. Beginning in April, the Veggie Van will utilize large stickers on the ground to help clients stand the recommended six feet apart. While the Veggie Van recently moved to a “clients’ choice” model for produce selection, bags of produce and non-perishable boxes will be pre-packed and available for pick up in order to reduce the number of people touching items. We will increase cleaning and disinfection procedures at distribution sites in order to implement service in a safe environment.