Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, an estimated 310,000 to 315,000 people are dealing with food insecurity in Northeast Florida.
That’s according to Feeding Northeast Florida CEO Susan King, who said roughly 225,000 of those people live in Duval County.
“1-in-5 kids and 1-in-4 adults right now is considered food insecure,” King said. Food insecurity is generally defined as not having easy access to a grocery store or supermarket with fresh food and produce.
The nonprofit organization is launching two mobile food pantries called Corner Markets. The units will park in areas of need, and “market managers” will provide fresh, healthy food like fruit and vegetables, along with advice.
“This is going to be a one-on-one contact with a client,” King said. “This is going to be a chance to talk about their nutritional needs. They are going to be able to talk about what other needs they may have, where we can refer them to other agencies.”
Each unit will also have a small office, where recipients can learn about Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) enrollment, Medicaid, counseling and other resources.
The Corner Markets will rotate between locations daily.
“Hunger is a symptom of poverty and other issues, and we're trying to take a more holistic approach to serving,” King said.
Outside the mobile markets, King said staff will demonstrate how to cook recipes so food recipients can learn what to do with the ingredients they are getting.
“Eggplant is prolific, but most people have no idea how to cook eggplant,” King said. “They don't like it because they don't know how to cook it, and so we can be showing people how to prepare it in a simple way and in a healthy way. Whatever is available on the market and seasonal at that time.”
Workers will also record data about the recipients, such as how many pounds of food they are given and the number of people in their household. Feeding Northeast Florida will track people’s progress.
The unit can serve approximately 30 families in a three-hour window, with that number expected to increase once the COVID-19 pandemic subsides.
Giovanna Newbill was one of the first customers at the new Corner Market Tuesday morning.
“I lost two-thirds of my income, and bill collectors don't care,” Newbill said. “JEA doesn't care. So you can't really buy food if you only have enough to pay your JEA bill, so it makes it very difficult.”
She said the Corner Market gives her healthy options she doesn’t have otherwise.
“When you only have a little bit of money, you buy what you can stretch, especially if you have kids,” Newbill said. “It's not always the healthiest thing. So I think this is awesome that they’re giving us healthy food and good vegetables.”
Reggie Dokes, one of the Corner Market managers, said the work they’re doing is innovative compared to food banks where he’s worked before.
Dokes said, “They're willing to accept new things like a plant or something they wouldn't normally eat, and we’re able to give out recipes or let them know how to use it best.”
One of the mobile units will be dedicated to Jacksonville’s Northwest quadrant, while the other will travel Feeding Northeast Florida’s eight-county area.
The organization was able to create a second unit due to a matching grant of $125,000 from the Michael Ward and Jennifer Glock Foundation.
Sky Lebron can be reached at email@example.com, 904-358-6319 or on Twitter at @SkylerLebron.