By Tamas Mondovics

To promote healthy living, and to meet the needs of individuals and families living below poverty and the working poor residing Hillsborough and East Pasco counties, the Tampa Metropolitan Area YMCA has launched, Veggie Van, a mobile market place.

YMCA officials reported that only 20 percent of residents in Hillsborough County meet the recommended five-a-day servings of fruit and vegetables. In underserved communities, the statistic drops to below 8.5 percent.

The program, which is the first for the Tampa Y, makes use of a refrigerated truck, to distribute fresh, nutritious food such as fruits and vegetables into targeted communities labeled “food deserts” or urban neighborhoods without ready access to fresh, healthy and affordable food.

Y spokesperson Lalita Llerena said that distributions are planned to take place bi-weekly on a rotating basis in the communities of Wimauma Village, Tampa Heights, Sulphur Springs and Lacoochee, while other communities may also be added depending on need.

“Our goal is to serve 150 families at each of the four sites which is 600 families a month,” Llerena said, adding that the Veggie Van distributes pre-packaged produce bags for a nominal fee.

Additional bags are a $1. Under the guidance of the municipal and state health departments, the Tampa Y is reportedly working with local farmers and growers.

Participants are pre-screened by local partners to include service clubs, schools and churches. Children and families receiving free or reduced-price lunches automatically qualify and only need to sign up for the service.

“We are serving the community and helping families enjoy healthy living,” LIerena said. With a nutritionist on staff, families are helped to improve food preparation, cooking habits, minimize the risk of obesity, chronic disease and high blood pressure.

“We are forging relationships,” LIerena said. “Working with residents to make good nutrition decisions, while maintaining a commitment to cultural food norms and traditions, is a vital objective of the Veggie Van.”

The Tampa YMCA launched the Veggie Van thanks to generous funding from the Children’s Board of Hillsborough County, The Joy McCann Foundation and Bank of America. Funding covers operational support, start-up costs and staffing of the Veggie Van, which is housed at the Central City Y.

To sign up, residents may contact Mobile Food Market Director Elizabeth Roman at 229-9622 ext. 1729 or

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