The Veggie Van. The mobile marketplace can be set up easily in any location.

By Sean Crumpacker

Approximately 2.3 million US citizens live in low-income areas that are more than 10 miles from a supermarket or grocery store. These areas without access to affordable and healthy food choices are known as food deserts. Illness, disease and poor health run rampant in these zones where no good food is available.

Luckily, the Tampa YMCA is tackling the issue with an innovative solution: the Veggie Van. The Veggie Van is a mobile marketplace; it drives from community to community to offer affordable, healthy food to residents which might not otherwise get any. Currently, the Veggie Van is targeting the following communities: Wimauma, Tampa Heights, Sulphur Springs, Plant City/Dover and Lacoochee, all of which have demonstrated a need for nutritional wellness.

The Veggie Van’s primary goal is to combat food deserts in the Tampa metropolitan area. In 2018, the Veggie Van served 9,293 individuals and families with a total of 18,586 bags of fresh produce—the equivalent of 139,395 meals. The Veggie Van distributes bags of prepackaged produce for a nominal fee of $1.

The Veggie Van serves adults with children (including designated caregivers,) households under 200 percent of the poverty line, free or reduced meal participants and households residing in the targeted areas as well as ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) populations.

The Veggie Van’s second goal is to minimize the risks of obesity, chronic disease and high blood pressure. The Veggie Van has a nutritionist on board at all times to work with families to improve food preparation and cooking habits in order to combat poor health conditions which are prevalent in food deserts. Childhood obesity is the main target of the Veggie Van’s nutrition efforts.

Childhood obesity can cause high blood pressure and high cholesterol and can lead to type II diabetes. Low self-esteem, negative body image and depression are often the result of childhood obesity, which the Tampa Y aims to cut down on.

Alongside the Veggie Van, the Tampa Y offers a wide variety of programs to fight chronic disease and obesity in both children and adults. Family fitness classes, Y weight, SilverSneakers and the Y Diabetes Prevention Program are all great programs to get started.

For information, visit www.tampaymca.org/programs/community-programs/veggie-van/.