ICS Food Banks Go Mobile

  • Rikki Mioduski
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On a daily basis, visitors to the Interfaith Community Services (ICS) food banks wait patiently in their cars, masks on, for their turn to exchange a few kind and grateful words with volunteers, receive their food and be on their way. But some do not come in cars. A few guests come with rolling luggage carts, traveling across town on public transportation. Some guests even come on their bicycles. It is an all-day endeavor.

For many who receive our services, access to services is barrier to getting the help they need. Reliance on public transportation often means that people have to set aside a day to visit our food banks, traveling long distances to get the food that helps them get through the month.

During the last 18 months, in response to social distance requirements, ICS transformed our food banks into drive through models. Faced with the increased volume of people in need, the drive through model allowed visitors to be helped quickly so that more people could be served in less time. Not only is this a more efficient mode of service delivery, but it also allows staff, volunteers, and those in need to take comfort in the safety of physical distancing.

In the coming months, ICS is taking this one step further. In our efforts to remove barriers to services, we will be taking our food bank to where the need is greatest. Our food banks will be hitting the road with a new service truck, the ICS Mobile Food Bank. It will have a regular route schedule, strategically placed in neighborhoods where many of our food bank recipients live.

Beginning in November, the Mobile Food Bank will be on a regular schedule, starting out at three locations each week. That schedule will expand in the coming months, with an additional location. The truck will help serve 50 to 60 families a day that otherwise may not have been able to acquire food. Built to distribute frozen meats and refrigerated items such as dairy and produce, the goal is to give clients the complete food bank experience without the hassle of all-day travel.

The truck will begin each day at the Mobile Food Bank Hub located on Tucson’s eastside on the campus of New Spirit Lutheran Church before it heads out to the new distribution sites. The sites will be made up of committed ICS faith communities who will be providing volunteers for the food distribution. Date, time, and location information for the Mobile Food Bank will be regularly updated on the ICS social media pages and on our website, icstucson.org.

Undeniably, taking a complex operation like food distribution on the road poses a unique set of challenges. Making sure the Mobile Food Bank is stocked and ready to roll each of the four days it will be open means early mornings of prepping, packing, loading, and documenting the amount of food necessary to serve those families in need. Ensuring that we have enough volunteers to greet our guests and distribute the food at each location means a scaling up of our food bank volunteer corps. And replicating the unique, ICS hospitality of the food bank experience remains a high priority.

The wait has been long. Supply chain disruptions as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic have meant delays in the building of the special refrigerated truck with roll-up side doors and retractable awning. Anticipation and excitement have been building over the past several months. But the wait is nearly over. The custom-built truck is scheduled for delivery and will be staffed by an additional team member in addition to a cadre of caring volunteers.