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Park-It Market will provide free food to low-income seniors throughout Orange County

Second Harvest Food Bank opened a mobile market this week to serve low- and fixed-income seniors around Orange County.

The Park-It Market is considered the first free, mobile walk-up market run by a food bank in the country.

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"With 22% of the senior population in Orange County considered food insecure, we made this strategy a priority," Second Harvest CEO Nicole Suydam said during an interview. "We are really excited to get out and do something that we believe will have a big impact on seniors in the county."

Second Harvest officially rolled out its market during a ceremony Wednesday morning outside the Village Center Senior Apartments in Anaheim. Dozens of tenants attended the short gathering.

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After a few speeches and a ribbon cutting, each took turns going up to the mobile market with a grocery bag to choose from assorted foods. Suydam said the food bank is not just fending off hunger for seniors, but providing them with healthy choices.

The large, refrigerated trailer has fruits, veggies and meat — the necessaries that make up a balanced diet. The food stock will change depending on what is donated to the food bank, though it will always be guided with an eye toward healthy choices. Some of the most prominent donors are Albertsons, Walmart, Ralphs and Target.

Village Center Apartments senior citizens select fresh, nutritious foods during the Park-It Market launch in Anaheim on Wednesday.
Village Center Apartments senior citizens select fresh, nutritious foods during the Park-It Market launch in Anaheim on Wednesday. (Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Several seniors during the event expressed their appreciation for the new market and the accompanying relief of having a reliable food source.

Stella Kim, 80, said through an interpreter that the market is convenient because getting her own groceries became strenuous.

"It was difficult to get groceries — going to the supermarket and carrying them," Kim said. "I am very thankful for this."

Francas Fabella, 75, said she's had to adhere to a strict budget when getting groceries.

"This will be our primary groceries now and it gives me a smile," Fabella said.

The Village Center Apartments is one of 20 locations where the market will make weekly visits. Other sites include senior centers and apartments in Anaheim, Brea, Fountain Valley, Fullerton, Huntington Beach, Irvine, Laguna Hills, Mission Viejo, Newport Beach, San Juan Capistrano and Tustin.

Second Harvest sent out requests to senior communities and chose from interested parties based on various specifications, like having room for the vehicle to maneuver and whether the location would be an ideal partner.

Suydam said the idea for the market had been in the making for about two years. It spawned from a need to develop a more convenient way for seniors to attain food. Because Second Harvest wants clients to be able to select their own items in a dignified manner, a full-service market seemed desirable.

"Food banking has evolved," Suydam said. "Most people think of food banks as cans and dry goods, but we have had to be innovative in the way we collect and distribute food. More than 70% of the foods we distribute to the community is perishable. People need more fresh and healthy items."

Village Center Apartments senior citizens pick up fresh foods during the Park-It Market launch event in Anaheim on Wednesday.
Village Center Apartments senior citizens pick up fresh foods during the Park-It Market launch event in Anaheim on Wednesday. (Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

The mobile market's debut coincides with Second Harvest's 35th anniversary.

The group, considered the largest nonprofit fighting hunger in Orange County, distributes food throughout the county through its more than 200 partners. Last year, the group administered 21.6 million meals.

Hunger has become an increasingly potent problem in the county. In a 2017 study, Feeding America, a hunger relief organization, estimated that 315,000 people in Orange County are food insecure.

Suydam said while the group is working to combat hunger for all in the county, seniors are particularly at risk because they live on fixed incomes and can't respond to cost fluctuations.

With the senior population in the county expected to double by 2045, Suydam said the issue will only grow. But programs like the Park-It Market — which is expected to result in the equivalent of 1 million meals served each year — will play a prominent role in countering that progression.

Twitter:@benbrazilpilot

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