Sharenet’s mobile food pantry pilot service begins at Indianola

ShareNet’s Mobile Food Pantry became a reality Sept. 13, when it debuted for service at Indianola Park, near the intersection of Indianola Road and Orca Drive.

Where would this pilot project start? Who was the property owner and would they agree? What time/day of the week? What food would we pack? How would the operation fit into all other core food bank systems? Those are all questions we had to answer.

The pilot project will continue for six weeks, every Tuesday at Indianola Park through Oct. 18, at which time we will evaluate the logistics of continuing.

Eleven households showed up that first day, each with a different story of why the Mobile Food Pantry is a good fit for them. Two folks showed up on bicycles, and another pair on a riding lawnmower, so it was safe to say for them transportation was an issue.

In this pocket of our local service area, public transportation is difficult, and some mentioned having to take three buses to reach appointments and access services, with the return trip spending virtually the entire day on the journey. If this site was any evidence, and we believe it is, it’s clear there are these hotspots of need throughout our far-flung service area that are challenged in reaching services.

As with most food bank functions, the Mobile Food Pantry requires many contributors and lots of planning. Volunteers Susie Stevens and Jim Johnsen will staff the actual pantry days, while many other staff and volunteers contribute before and after.

We brought three coolers to the pantry’s first day, one with meat, one with dairy, one with frozen vegetables/fruits and ready to eat. We stocked 11 crates, three for fresh produce, the remainder for canned goods, pasta/rice, and heat and eat products. The pantry also featured several boxes of bread and bakery goods. We planned for 20 families, just in case that many showed up. With an average family size of three, that was potentially 60 recipients.

As we expected there were lessons learned, enabling us to tighten the pantry operation for next time.

Whole bean coffee was not a hit, because most people don’t have grinders anymore. Ingredients that made up a single meal were a hit, and clients expressed appreciation for receiving pasta, sauce, and meat all at once. We learned to pack the van more tightly for a fuller stock, and how to pack the crates better for improved access.

Part of the team had rearranged our vehicle schedule so that our cargo van could be available for this service, and packed what it could in advance, sort of like stocking a vehicle for an extended camping trip. More crew finished packing the fresh and perishables on the day of, along with the materials needed to register clients.

It was fantastic to see the Mobile Food Pantry received with gratitude and enthusiasm.

Mark Ince is executive director of ShareNet, and can be reached at 360-297-2266 ext. 3 or