By Dane Chronister
Attendees at Saturday’s Waco Downtown Farmers Market witnessed the ribbon cutting ceremony for World Hunger Relief’s newest venture – the Veggie Van.
The World Hunger Relief Veggie Van recently launched a mobile shop of locally grown vegetables harvested at the World Hunger Relief farm north of Waco. These vegetables are gathered, sold and distributed throughout Waco in order to provide for those who do not have access to fresh produce.
The USDA classifies various parts of Waco as food deserts, or urban environments with limited access to affordable fresh foods. The World Hunger Relief administration joined in countless community meetings in order to figure out ways the organization could help people affected by this.
According to the World Hunger Relief website, nearly 58,000 people in Waco live in food deserts, which is 46.5 percent of the total population.
“The idea of having a mobile market has been on our minds for probably a decade,” said Matt Hess, executive director of World Hunger Relief.
Both the Cooper Foundation and the Waco Foundation are supporting the Veggie Van program with the help of donations for the efforts. The van involves numerous volunteers who pitch in to help the system function.
“We will have one guy who is going to be on the van on a regular basis and then we will rotate all of our interns so they get experience,” Hess said.
“With the farm, there are 10 to 12 people working in the garden any day… and nine interns who work with the van for 13 months at the farm. It’s a full-time position where they are getting experience,” Hess said.
Aurora, Colo., senior Darcy Groom is a Baylor student who works with World Hunger Relief. She is in charge of the grant process and the van’s collaboration with the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.
SNAP is a licensed government program that offers Americans financial assistance to buy groceries. In the future, World Hunger Relief might partner with SNAP to give Veggie Van customers the best price for their purchases.
“My biggest hope [for the Veggie Van] is that it is received very well by the community and it brings awareness,” Groom said. “And that other organizations realize how to find a more sustainable system and see the Waco economy grow from there.”
Hess said many volunteers worked around Waco as part of the Martin Luther King holiday.
“A day like yesterday was really rewarding, to see hundreds of people working out in the gardens, it’s a large part of what we are doing,” Hess said.
As of right now, the van is relying on churches, neighborhood buzz and social media to get the word out to Waco.
The Veggie Van will operate from 3 to 6 p.m. on Wednesdays at the corner of Church and Elm streets, in hopes of helping anyone in need of healthy foods and vegetables in the area.
“We have had some good response to our volunteer needs, but what the Baylor students need to know is there are volunteer opportunities available,” Hess said. “We hope to help people make the healthy and easy choice.”