Food distribution

Volunteer Tommy Sablam hands bell peppers to Guadalupe Partida during Tuesday morning’s distribution of free fresh produce by the Mobile Fresh program at the Valley Christian Church grounds on South Corral Hollow Road.

It was a sunny — and busy — Tuesday morning this week outside the Valley Christian Church complex on South Corral Hollow Road.

About 175 people from low-income families had lined up to receive free fresh fruits and vegetables in the twice-monthly Mobile Fresh distribution, a pilot program of the Second Harvest Food Bank.

Tuesday’s produce included tomatoes, peppers, apples, oranges, cauliflower, potatoes, bananas, carrots and strawberries. Stephanie Moreno, program coordinator and one of two Mobile Fresh staffers at the distribution, pointed to the volunteers busily handing out the fresh food.

“The volunteers are the lifeline of this program. We have 10 here today, which is really good, but we need more,” she said. “If we didn’t have our volunteers, we could not function.”

The need for more volunteers has become more acute as the Mobile Fresh program has continued to grow in Tracy and in Lathrop and Manteca.

Regular distribution of surplus food by the Second Harvest Food Bank goes through cooperating nonprofits that have teams of helpers. Mobile Fresh, however, distributes directly and needs the support of its own volunteers.

Tuesday’s distribution had an especially large turnout, Moreno reported, noting that the sunny weather brought more people out after several weeks of rain.

Volunteers spend two hours on two Tuesday mornings a month helping give fresh produce to Tracy and Mountain House area residents who wouldn’t otherwise have access to fruits and vegetables.

The volunteers are busy over those two hours — usually between 9 and 11 a.m. — signing up people, helping with setup, opening produce cartons, handing out food, carrying bags, providing information on healthy eating and then cleaning up.

Those who receive free produce in the Mobile Fresh program, now in its third year in Tracy, sign up on their first visit and receive cards that are used each time they show up.

They walk around the Mobile Fresh truck, where volunteers hand them fruits and vegetables that are available that day.

The fresh produce distributed by Mobile Fresh is on average half donated and half purchased, often at discount prices. Among the key local donors are Taylor Farms, Amazon Fresh and Sysco. Financial support has come from Sutter Tracy Community Hospital and the Tracy Hospital Foundation.

One volunteer, Diane Cerin, said Tuesday that she had been helping at Mobile Fresh for six months and loved it.

“It’s a way to give back,” she said. “It’s very rewarding, and the people are very appreciative.”

Paul Dore, a low-income senior citizen who received a 20-pound bag of fruits and vegetables on Tuesday, said it’s “a wonderful program.”

“They help everyone out,” he said. “I know I certainly appreciate it, and so do the others.”

Over at the sign-up counter, volunteer Gayle Benson was enrolling Raymundo Ruiz and providing him with his card.

“My heart is touched every time I’m here. I hear stories from people who tell you things you can’t imagine,” Benson said. “So many can’t afford fresh fruits and vegetables, and this program is extremely important in providing healthy food.”

People who want to volunteer with Mobile Fresh can talk with Benson at the sign-up counter during the Tuesday morning distributions twice a month at Valley Christian Church, 903 S. Corral Hollow Road (the next is Feb. 28) or contact Stephanie Moreno at 239-2091 or by email at mobilefresh@secondharvest.org

Contact Sam Matthews at shm@tracypress.com or 830-4234.

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