FRESH Truck officially launches, promotes health while fighting hunger

Rosa and her 5-year-old daughter step out of the blistering February cold and into a truck overflowing with produce. They’re at a Greater Chicago Food Depository FRESH Truck distribution in Logan Square.

“I want my kids to be healthy,” she said. “I don’t want them to go hungry.”

The Food Depository’s FRESH Truck is a walk-through produce market that partners with health clinics throughout Cook County to provide nutritious fruit and vegetables to people who are food insecure.

Rosa was screened for food insecurity at the nearby Cook County Health and Hospitals System (CCHHS) clinic. She got a “prescription” to receive produce at the FRESH Truck. Her husband is working but the family still struggles and cannot afford the nutritious food they need to stay healthy.

“Towards the end of the month, there’s so little money left for healthy food. We wouldn’t be able to afford the fruit and vegetables we’re getting today,” Rosa said.

The FRESH Truck was officially launched in August 2015 in Chicago Heights. The Logan Square distribution was added the following month. Since then, the program has expanded to eight sites including six CCHHS clinics and two ACCESS Community Health Network locations.

The program addresses the critical intersection of health and hunger. According to the Hunger in America study, 44 percent of clients surveyed said they were in fair to poor health. Thirty-five percent said they had diabetes and 60 percent said there was someone in their household with high blood pressure.

“Research shows fresh produce is critical to disease prevention and management,” said Dr. Angela Odoms-Young, an associate professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Nutrition at the UIC College of Applied Health Sciences. “Unfortunately, low-income Americans are more at risk for diets that lack produce.”

The health benefits of regularly eating fresh fruit and vegetables are immense. For children especially, consistent access to produce is crucial for proper development.

“Fruit and vegetables help create healthier kids,” Dr. Odoms-Young said. “They help reduce obesity, improve digestive health and in the long-term, can reduce the risk of some types of cancers.”

In the coming year, the Food Depository expects to open at least three more FRESH Truck distributions in our community.