Mobile Food Pantry Delivers Cal Poly Pomona-Grown Produce

Mobile Food Pantry Delivers Cal Poly Pomona-Grown Produce
Susan Algert, professor of Human Nutrition & Food Science, right, and student Adriana Pulido fill bags with produce at the Cal Poly Pomona Farm Store.
Pulido, a senior majoring in dietetics, interviews a research participant during produce giveaway.
Doug Lewis, chair of Human Nutrition & Food Science, hands out bags of fruits and vegetables during produce giveaway at a Pomona senior center Aug. 29.

Faculty in the Human Nutrition & Food Science Department began a mobile food pantry program this summer in hopes to provide a steady stream of fresh produce to low-income residents of Pomona.

For most of the summer, Cal Poly Pomona-grown produce has been passed out for free on a weekly basis to low-income, elderly Hispanic women at the Washington Park Senior Center in order to study and improve their diet and nutrition.

“We're trying to increase the consumption of fruits and vegetables by elderly Hispanic women,” says assistant professor Susan Algert. “Many of these women, who are at high-risk of hypertension and diabetes, have not been able to incorporate enough fruit and vegetables into their diet because of accessibility and cost. Some of them don't have enough money to eat three meals a day.”

Elena Rodriguez, site manager at the Washington Park Senior Center, said the 40 participants are pleased and eager to collect their 11-14 pounds of fresh produce each week.

“They seem to be eating more vegetables and fruit,” Rodriguez says. “They really like the idea.”

To lay the ground work for the current study and future mobile food pantry work, Algert and Douglas Lewis, chair of Human Nutrition & Food Science, spearheaded a study with the university's Center for GIS Research and in partnership with the Inland Valley Council of Churches. The study mapped out where IVCC's food pantry clients lived in relation to where they could buy fresh produce. Many food pantry clients do not drive and must walk to stores in order to buy groceries.

The study titled “Disparities in Access to Fresh Produce in Low-Income Neighborhoods in Los Angeles” showed 59 percent of the 3,985 food pantry clients in 2003 did not live within walking distance (1/2 mile) of a store that sold fresh produce. The study was published in May in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

The benefits of fresh produce are many. Numerous epidemiologic studies show that adequate levels of fruit and vegetable consumption helps prevent cardiovascular disease, obesity and increases health overall, Algert says.

The mobile food pantry program ultimately aims to deliver fresh produce to the most under-served and low-income neighborhoods of Pomona. This summer's study has focused on low-income Hispanic women at one senior center, but if funding permitted, produce would not be limited to that group, Lewis says.

In addition to improving the health of a low-income population, the mobile food pantry program creates ample opportunities for more student- and faculty-led research in the community. The program allows students to develop nutrition education materials and conduct nutrition events and outreach in Pomona as part of their coursework, Algert says.

A few years have been spent researching; developing partnerships; and acquiring grants to get this point. Recently, Algert and Lewis obtained $20,000 from the Agricultural Research Initiative and $25,000 from the UPS Foundation. The grants have been used to buy the produce and a large van, which serves as the mobile food pantry.

Funding for the current study runs out in the middle of September and work is underway to secure more funds to keep the project going. Ultimately, Lewis and Algert hope that funding streams will be developed and the program can be operated on a regular basis by the IVCC, which currently runs a food pantry and a weekly farmers market.