A new fresh-food truck will travel Oxford with help from federal funds

Talawanda Oxford Pantry and Social Services (TOPSS) is now in two of the three buildings at the Family Resource Center on College Corner Pike. TOPSS provides food to residents in the Talawanda School District experiencing food shortage. CONTRIBUTED/BOB RATTERMAN
Talawanda Oxford Pantry and Social Services (TOPSS) is now in two of the three buildings at the Family Resource Center on College Corner Pike. TOPSS provides food to residents in the Talawanda School District experiencing food shortage. CONTRIBUTED/BOB RATTERMAN

Taking food to those who need it most and providing fresh vegetables are the goals of a joint venture by the Oxford food pantry and farmer’s market using funds allocated from the city’s CARES Act money.

The city allocated $95,000 from its federal CARES Act money for the purchase of a special-order truck with refrigeration and freezer capacity to be used by Talawanda Oxford Pantry and Social Services (TOPSS) and the Uptown Farmers Market. The allocation came in two parts.

First, the City Council voted to grant $42,000 to TOPSS from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding to purchase a used truck. When a third allocation came to the city, the pantry organization requested an additional $53,000 to purchase a new truck made to their specifications.

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The farmers market, meanwhile, had requested $50,000 to buy a refrigerated van to expand its e-commerce efforts to bring fresh fruits and vegetables from its vendors to the market site as well as deliver them to residents of the area.

“It seemed a pretty similar ask and City Council was not willing to give two things to two organizations in the community,” farmers market manager Ross Olson said. “We want to be sure everyone’s needs are met. The cooperation makes me feel good about what we have done.”

He credited TOPSS Executive Director Ann Fuehrer with suggesting a joint request in which they would share use of the truck and Council members agreed to that arrangement in granting the second allocation.

Representatives of the two agencies are meeting to finalize specifications for the truck.

Fuehrer said the food pantry has been operating on a delivery-only basis during the pandemic but that took away the element of choice on which it was founded. They reopened for curbside shopping Oct. 26, a modified operation in which customers do not enter the building but fill out an order sheet from their cars and their selections are filled by volunteers.

Deliveries have continued, however.

“We are about half and half with deliveries,” TOPSS Storage Room Manager Scott O’Malley said.

The curbside visits are by appointment only and the pantry’s Customer Service Manager Candace Roseman, working from home, takes the reservations and schedules those visits.

While the shoppers are waiting for their orders to be filled, other volunteers bring around a box of the fresh produce they have available and customers can make selections from that, which are then bagged and provided to them.

Fuehrer said she was concerned with the pandemic operation not allowing pantry customers choice. The number of deliveries was wearing on their volunteer force putting the boxes together and delivering them to residences all over the vast service area, the Talawanda School District.

“We cannot continue doing 28 deliveries a day,” she said, but noted they are limiting the number of curbside pickups each service day to accommodate regular pantry users. “We did curbside a bit in March, but looking ahead, realized it could not continue during the pandemic.”

O’Malley said the plan to use the new truck for those deliveries is only part of the plans for TOPSS.

“Having a vehicle, even beyond deliveries, will allow donations to be picked up, so they will not just come to us,” he said, noting the shared use will help not only those who need the services of a food pantry but also residents who want to have more fresh produce available. “The food system proves it can work for everyone. It’s pretty exciting. Everyone eats. This combines local food and TOPSS, two big constituencies.”

Even after the pandemic, however, both the market and TOPSS will be able to expand their operations with use of the truck. Olson said the pandemic has brought to light policies related to food which hamper many from getting the nourishing food they need.

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