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Mobile market offers healthy food, weekly service to KC areas lacking access to grocery stores

By Mike Sherry for KHI News Service, July 19, 2012

Every day, it’s the same thing for Carrie Strickland.

Every day, her Boys & Girls Club campers clamor to buy junk food at a nearby store.

But Tuesday was different at 43rd Street and Cleveland Ave. in eastern Kansas City, Mo.

“Instead of Hot Chips,” Strickland said, “we’ve got bananas.”

The campers were among the first shoppers at Truman Medical Centers’ Healthy Harvest Mobile Market.

If all goes to according to plan, the refurbished and retrofitted city bus will stop at the Boys & Girls Club site and four others throughout Kansas City each week.

“This is our maiden voyage right here,” said Brendan Cossette, director of Innovation TMC, an initiative that aims for creative solutions to health issues facing Truman’s patients.

With a year-round schedule that calls for three stops on Tuesdays and two more on Thursdays, the Mobile Market will travel to neighborhoods lacking easy access to supermarkets that stock affordable fruits and vegetables.

Shoppers should have little trouble finding the bright yellow bus, adorned as it is in produce-themed vinyl wrap.

Produce bins on each side of the bus take up much of its interior. Customers pay at a register near the back, which market manager Derrick Idleburg Jr. manned on Tuesday. They exit through the bus’s side door.

At least at the outset, the driver will be Daniel Valerio, who has the proper certification to operate the bus, since his main job is driving a patient van at Truman’s Lakewood campus.

Cossette said they would like to serve at least 100 customers at each of the five stops each week. About 50 shoppers came through on the first day near the Boys & Girls Club.

The inventory is supplied by Loffredo Fresh Produce, which is based in Des Moines, Iowa and already was a vendor to Truman. The hospital is selling the produce pretty much at cost, officials said.

Future plans call for the Mobile Market to travel with dieticians and nutritionists aboard who can provide assistance to the shoppers.

The prices stood out for customer Rochelle Howard. Her items included cantaloupe, bell peppers, grapes and apples.

“You get to shop at a bargain price,” Howard said.

The project is a joint venture of Truman and the Hospital Hill Economic Development Corp. About $50,000 in startup funding came from area philanthropies and corporate donors. The Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City is a funder.

Truman executives Charlie Shields and CiCi Rojas are chairman of the board and executive director, respectively, of the economic development corporation.

The Mobile Market, they said, was a first step toward Truman’s other goal of opening a grocery store at 27th Street and Troost Ave.

Rojas said the Mobile Market would help acquaint the hospital with some of the ins and outs of running a supermarket.

An even broader project goal, Shields said, is helping revitalize parts of the urban core. That’s a mission shared by the Urban Neighborhood Initiative, one of the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce’s “Big 5” ideas announced in September.

It’s an ongoing debate about whether people follow retail or retail follows people, Shields said, “but in this case, we think rooftops will follow the grocery store.”

The Kansas City Area Transportation Authority leapt at the chance to be involved with the Mobile Market. Marketing Director Cindy Baker said its riders were among Truman’s target audience.

“We think it’s a great opportunity to deliver a really terrific service to some of our customers as well as some other people,” she said.

The authority has a 261-bus fleet, and the bus it donated to the cause is a 1996 model that was mothballed after racking up about 500,000 miles in regular service.

Maintenance Director Walt Woodward said two body-shop workers spent about 90 hours over a period of about three week converting the bus. The authority also has pledged to provide ongoing maintenance for a limited fee.

Refurbishment work included changing the electrical system so it could run the refrigerators and cash register. The workers also had to make special brackets to secure the shelving and cabinetry.

“It’s a great project,” Woodward said. “I’m very pleased to be a part of it.”

The Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City is proud to partner with the Kansas Health Institute news service to provide weekly health stories about health and policy issues impacting the greater Kansas City region. This News Service is an editorially independent program of the Kansas Health Institute and the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City and is committed to objective coverage of health issues.


I think this is an absolutely wonderful project and I applaud the Health Care Foundation for supporting and publicizing it. It is a perfect opportunity to help people in the food deserts get quality produce.

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