Mobile Market fills produce niche in underserved area

It’s been 16 months since the first Mobile Market took place on the west side of Durham. That first meeting back in May 2013 only helped about 70 families.

Now more than twice as many are being helped.

The Mobile Market is held every third Saturday at Duke Memorial United Methodist Church, 504 Chapel Hill Road.

Rebecca Oats has been an organizer for the market since its inception. She said Interfaith Food Shuttle came to her and other organizers because they saw a need to help get fresh fruits and vegetables out to people in west Durham. There was already a market on the east side of the city.

“There is a food desert on this side of town,” Oats said. “They have to walk two, three, four blocks to get to the grocery store. We felt there was a need.”

Oats said there might be convenience stores near those in need, but many times those stores don’t supply fresh produce, which discourages healthy eating habits.

There are no requirements or qualifications for those who come to the market. The only question asked is how many people are in each household. Those seeking assistance from the market are asked to show up at 8:30 a.m. to get a number for service and then return at 10:30 a.m. to receive food.

Oats said about 60 volunteers are needed to help keep the market running. Paulette Morrison-Danner is one of those volunteers. She’s been involved with the market since it began.

“I have just had a joy working with the people,” she said. “It’s my way of giving back to the community.”

It also allows her to combat hunger in Durham.

“Hunger has no color to it,” she said. “You just come as you are, and I tell people, you never know who is hungry.”

She hopes that in the future as the market continues more businesses can partner with them to help bring in more donations.

“Something that is day old is somebody’s treasure,” Morrison-Danner said.

Oats said the Mobile Market receives a lot of donations from those that go out and pick vegetables and fruits themselves, but companies like Wal-Mart and Sysco donate produce and other goods as well.

Debbie Royster and her daughter Kristine were also volunteering at Saturday’s market. Instead of passing out food to needy families, the duo was helping pack boxes to be delivered to those in need who couldn’t make it out to Duke UMC.

Oates said delivering to those who are sick and shut-in can have access to food they might not other wise have.

“You want them to have fresh food as well,” she said.

Debbie Royster is very passionate about solving food deserts. She grew up in west Durham, and through her work with Southwest Central Durham and Durham Health Innovations she helps educate the community about the problem of hunger.

“Healthy food and exercise is the key to all chronic diseases,” she said. “It can make the difference. When they’re ill they can’t get better if they’re not eating properly.”

She’s hoping to up their volunteer base to help deliver to those who cannot make it to the market, since that need is growing.

“It’s supplying a basic need, healthy food,” she said. “And everybody needs that, no matter what income bracket you fall in.”

She also hopes to get a bigger base of youth volunteers, which is one of the reasons why she brings her daughter with her.

Kenisha Bethea is another volunteer that is passionate about solving hunger in Durham. She helps to deliver the packages of food to those who can’t make it to the market and she said that’s one of the most rewarding parts of being a volunteer.

“They’re so appreciative,” she said.

To her, the Mobile Market is a huge collective effort to help those who can’t get the basic nutrients in food, and being a volunteer is just doing her part in that effort.

“(It also shows) that Durham does a lot of good,” she said.

On Saturday over a 130 families were served by the Mobile Market and another 180 deliveries were made to people who couldn’t make it to the site.