FUQUAY-VARINA — By 4:30 p.m., a line had formed outside Lincoln Heights Elementary School. The lure: fresh – and free – fruits and vegetables.
The Kraft Family YMCA in Apex and the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle have partnered to provide healthy food options for area families as prices of grocery-store produce continue to climb.
The mobile market launched in May and is open for one hour on the first Tuesday of every month at Lincoln Heights Elementary School in Fuquay-Varina. Everyone in the community is welcome to stop by and pick up fruits and veggies.
The program is only in its second month, but it’s already popular. About 187 families turned out in May, and about 130 showed up this month.
The food is handed out on a first-come first served basis.
Aiesha Stone, a Fuquay-Varina mother of two, was willing to wait in line for about an hour last week to get vegetables for her family.
“Food is really expensive. This helps out a lot,” Stone said. “I think it’s a great program. It’s a way to make sure that kids are eating healthy.”
Stone said she lost her job as a manager at a barbecue restaurant in December. She’s collecting unemployment benefits and also receives food assistance, but fruits and vegetables aren’t cheap. Stone said she is forced to limit the variety of fresh produce in her home.
She walked away from last week’s mobile market with cantaloupe, corn on the cob, kiwi, a pineapple and grapes. She was keeping an eye out for cucumbers, but they were already gone.
Marcela Blanco of Fuquay-Varina got broccoli, lettuce and onions. Normally she relies on the local food pantry, and she said it was nice to see the variety at the market.
Blanco is a stay-at-home mother, and her family relies on the income of her husband, a construction worker.
“This (market) is a big help,” she said.
Last week, many of the more expensive produce items were among the first to go: strawberries, green bell peppers and tomatoes. But that didn’t mean that people walked away empty-handed.
“We’re trying to make sure that everyone who shows up here before 6 p.m. gets something,” said Susan Knowles, Kraft YMCA’s director of communication.
Last week, there were still plenty of collards, thanks to a local farmer who donated several boxes. Area farmers, supermarkets and businesses donate the food for the market.
The variety of the produce rivals what’s found in most farmers markets, including blueberries, lettuce, apricots and onions.
Knowles attributes the program’s popularity to word-of-mouth advertising.
“I think it’s because of the tight-knittedness of the community and the relationships we’ve been able to build,” she said. “We’re not just throwing up a flyer, but we’re having constant conversations through these families through our other programs.”
The mobile market aims to help many of the same families the YMCA tries to reach through its 12-week Energize! program for children diagnosed with type 2 diabetes or pre-diabetes. As part of the course, students learn about nutrition, fitness and behavior changes.
Funding for the market comes from the YMCA’s We Build People annual fundraising campaign. The market is expected to continue indefinitely, as funding allows, Knowles said.