On a Tuesday morning, Maricela Hernandez left to take her two kids to the park. On the way there, Maricela saw a Greater Chicago Food Depository FRESH Truck parked outside of Cook County Cicero Health Center.
She decided to stop.
Maricela had seen information about the FRESH Truck on the news around six months ago. She did not think there was a location near her.
“I stopped because I wanted to get more information about the truck, but then they told me I could get food,” Maricela said.
The FRESH Truck, a mobile produce vehicle, stops at 15 health clinics in Cook County one to two times a month.
Doctors at the clinics give out “prescriptions” to the truck after a questionnaire determines that they are food insecure. The FRESH Truck program is designed to primarily serve patients from the health clinics. But, people can also receive produce when the truck is open to the general public. On average, clients receive 20 to 25 pounds of produce.
Although Maricela had never visited a food assistance program before, she said the truck comes at a time of need.
“I am a full-time mom because I cannot afford daycare and I have a young baby,” Maricela said. “Hopefully soon I can get a job where I can afford daycare, but right now I’m stuck.”
After the father of her children left, Maricela applied for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also referred to as food stamps.
“Food stamps are helpful, especially without a paycheck coming in, but with everything going on it is hard to make ends meet,” Maricela said.
Maricela said that to make it through the month, she has to plan meals carefully. She was excited to see Food Depository volunteers handing out recipe cards that feature the produce being distributed. She said it would help her prepare the produce she received that day.
Usually, Maricela can prepare three weeks of food with the money she receives from SNAP. “Then after that, we always have about a week to wait until the money kicks in again,” Maricela said. “For that week, we find stuff that is leftover in the freezer from previous months and stretch the food as far as we can.”
But without a car, it can be hard for Maricela to have easy access to variety and affordably priced groceries. She also said that it can be hard to afford the foods she knows her kids should eat.
“At my last grocery store trip, I bought beans, peanut butter, lettuce and tortillas and that was 10 percent of my budget for the month,” Maricela said. “My son can be picky and I can’t get the foods he wants, but I also cannot get the foods I want him to eat.”
When she saw the FRESH Truck, she said she felt a sense of relief.
“This is incredibly helpful because the thing that is the most expensive at the grocery store is always fruits and veggies,” Maricela said.
In coming weeks, the Food Depository expects to add another FRESH Truck distribution to Cook County. The FRESH Truck is one of the ways the Food Depository was able to deliver 25 million pounds of produce in the county this past year.