Sarah Hays, Tampa Metro Area YMCA executive director, passes out book bags and supplies at Veggie Van stops in Wimauma on April 9.

By Gwen Rollings

When we think about a desert, places like the Sahara or Mojave Desert come to mind. Yet, according to the Tampa Metropolitan YMCA, there are 40 locations in metropolitan Tampa that are deemed ‘food deserts.’

By definition, food deserts are located at least 1 mile from the nearest supermarkets or large groceries in urban areas and more than 10 miles in rural areas, residents do not have vehicles, they rely on walking or public transportation and frequently shop at convenience stores and gas stations where prices are inflated, food is processed and choices are limited.

Wimauma is identified as a food desert. It is a mostly rural community situated about 30 miles from Tampa. The area lacks a public transit system, which necessitates residents walking miles to obtain affordable groceries. Although many residents are farmworkers picking fruits and vegetables, according to 83 Degrees Media, their financial resources do not allow farmworkers to purchase their own fresh fruits and vegetables.

On April 9, the YMCA in partnership with Veggie Van brought some much-needed ‘rain’ to two Wimauma food desert locations in the form of school supplies and free bags of fresh fruits and vegetables. The Veggie Van program began in July 2015 as a mobile marketplace feeding families living in food deserts.

Through this mobile program, the Y distributes fruits and vegetables into communities like Wimauma during the first and third weeks of each month. Membership for Veggie Van is $4 monthly and allows participants to fill two bags during one of the stops. Fees have been suspended temporarily.

The coronavirus and closed schools caused students living in food deserts to have limited access to not only healthy meals but tools needed for educational success. To assist students with their distance learning, 100 free book bags stuffed with school supplies provided by YMCA donors were handed out in April.

Sarah Hays, Tampa Metropolitan Area YMCA executive director of Y Before and After School Enrichment, remarked about the Wimauma Veggie Van stops, “Everyone was just overwhelmed with gratitude. Just to see the smiling faces of the kids as they were getting their school supplies was pretty amazing. The need is great. Whether it’s food or supplies, the Y wants to continue to be there for our families during this crisis. We thank our generous donors who continue to support us.”

For more information, visit www.tampaymca.org. For Veggie Van stops, contact Lauren.Reyes@tampaymca.org.