New van helping deliver food for Butler County pantry

The new mobile pantry van was purchased with money from the city’s CARES Act funding last year but was recently delivered. The van is to be jointly used by the pantry and Uptown Farmers Market. CONTRIBUTED/BOB RATTERMAN

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The new mobile pantry van was purchased with money from the city’s CARES Act funding last year but was recently delivered. The van is to be jointly used by the pantry and Uptown Farmers Market. CONTRIBUTED/BOB RATTERMAN

Oxford food pantry purchases van with CARES Act funds.

Oxford food pantry operations have gone mobile with the addition of a refrigerated van being used to take food to customers who cannot come in to the facility on College Corner Pike.

The van was purchased with CARES Act money last year but due to delays with the dealer getting it fitted with refrigeration equipment, it was not delivered until July 15. It went into immediate use, however, making Thursday and Saturday trips to Parkview Arms Apartments. The city allocated $95,000 for the purchase from its Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funding with the condition the van be shared with the Uptown Farmers Market, which had also applied for funding for a vehicle for its eCommerce program.

Ann Fuehrer, executive director of Talawanda Oxford Pantry and Social Services, said the van actually came in under the estimate – at $78,000 – and they returned the difference.

A mobile facet to the pantry’s operation had long been a dream of hers and the CARES Act money made it a reality. Now, they will be able to drive to various areas of the school district and bring food and produce to people unable to make it into Oxford. For now, she said, they are making trips to Parkview Arms but she hopes to expand that in the future to other parts of their service area, the Talawanda School District.

The pantry’s first mobile trip to Parkview Arms Apartments saw 12 families assisted and Fuehrer said each trip sees a partner accompanying it to hand out information about their organization and answer questions. SELF and the local Free Clinic have gone along on trips.

The mobile pantry carries about 40 different items, plus produce. Families being served are given a list of items in various categories to choose what they want, keeping to the pantry’s choice model. Those categories include areas such as grains, combination, bakery, dairy, frozen meat and protein, miscellaneous, vegetables, fruits, protein and house/personal items.

TOPSS is expanding its food distribution efforts to include education on nutrition, she said. One recent trip to PVA with the mobile pantry saw a cooking demonstration by Miami University students and Nancy Parkinson, an associate clinical lecturer in the Department of Kinesiology, Nutrition and Health. Parkinson has long been associated with the pantry as she and students have offering cooking and nutrition classes to customers. They are also providing recipes for a quick summer dinner to place in the Summer Harvest bags handed out to families.

Parkinson and her students are also responsible for a nutrition information web site for which there is a link on the pantry’s site.

There are also plans for an afterschool nutrition program.

“We want to make it into an ongoing nutrition support for our families. We want to have ongoing activities and resources for our families,” Fuehrer said, noting pantry usage slipped a bit last year, probably due to the expanded SNAP (food stamp) program but those benefits ended in June. “Numbers are going back up now.”

She is looking to expand the mobile pantry efforts but for now, they will continue at PVA in order to get the system working smoothly. Where they will take the van depends on how many they will be able to serve in a given area. Somerville is likely next.

“I’d like to get into the communities but we need it working in a sustainable way. It’s going well, but it is labor-intensive. Two or three volunteers are needed with the van each time,” Fuehrer said. “I’m really pleased with it. PVA has been overlooked in the past. People are really grateful and thankful about us being there in addition to giving them choice. It’s a shorter list (than in-person at the pantry) but it is still choice shopping. I think it’s exactly what we wanted.”

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