ARLINGTON — The mobile pantry, stocked with fresh produce and shelf-stable goods, is rolling through the Stilly Valley.
The truck’s side opens to bins of fruits and veggies, jars of peanut butter, and packages of noodles. Volunteers man the counter, passing out eggs, cheese and meat. It might look like a grocery store on wheels, but nothing here is for sale.
The mobile market is Arlington Community Food Bank’s new effort to address hunger in north Snohomish County.
Food bank executive director Carla Rankin said the truck had more than 85 customers its first week of service in early November at the Stilly Valley Center and the Stillaguamish Tribe’s Behavioral Health Center. The market is open a few hours at each stop. Anyone can take what they need at no cost.
“I would say 80% of the people didn’t even know about the food bank or where it was,” she said. “And they desperately needed health food assistance. So I think that just speaks volumes that people are really struggling.”
The food bank is working to add more stops. There’s at least six so far.
The main food bank, tucked away in an industrial area near the Arlington airport, is not the easiest or most visible location. Rankin saw these challenges firsthand when she started her job in March 2019.
“Within the first two weeks, the phone rang and rang and rang and people said ‘I can’t get there. Where are you? I can’t get there,’” she said.
She remembered visiting a bookmobile while growing up in rural Darrington. She thought of a similar concept: a “foodmobile.”
For a year, Rankin researched vehicles, looking at beer trucks and Community Transit vans. She found the perfect solution: The Farmers’ Truck, a company in New Brunswick, in northeastern Canada. The business builds mobile market trucks equipped with refrigerators and sliding display bins. A white exterior is a blank canvas for a custom design.
The food bank’s board approved Rankin’s plan in early 2020. She then recruited Arlington High School students to help with fundraising.
“They adopted the mobile pantry and were the initial fundraising engine behind it,” she said.
In the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, the students raised more than $19,000.
The city of Arlington contributed $60,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funds. The food bank also received donations of $10,000 each from SMARTCAP, a real estate investment firm, and Pivotal Construction, a related construction business.
The food bank made a deposit on the truck in June 2021. Rankin flew to Maine in January to drive the mobile market back to Arlington.
But the Canada-made truck had to be cleared by U.S. Customs before it could cross the border. Rankin said the mobile market finally arrived in July after a board member and his wife drove it across the country. The journey from the truck’s origin in Moncton, New Brunswick, to Arlington was more than 3,500 miles.
Arlington company Penaway Media created custom graphics for the truck.
Food bank board member Christina Carbajal has been impressed with the mobile market since it launched. “It’s new every time you open it,” she said.
Sometimes it’s stocked with food for families (pancake mix, syrup, fruit and cereral cups). Volunteers display the day’s protein options on the counter. At a recent stop, a sign advertised Cornish game hens, ground beef, milk and eggs.
Carbajal said some are unable to access a traditional food bank because they don’t have reliable transportation or are simply unaware.
“(The mobile market) just makes it more accessible, and food should be accessible,” she said.
The mobile market needs volunteers. To volunteer, email firstname.lastname@example.org or fill out an application online at arlingtonfoodbank.org.
Visit the mobile market
Schedule is subject to change. Check the food bank’s website or Facebook page, facebook.com/ArlingtonWAFoodBank, for updates.
• Arlington Heights Fire Station: 1st and 3rd Tuesdays, 4-5 p.m.
• Oso Fire Station: 1st and 3rd Wednesdays, 4-5 p.m.
• Angel of the Winds Casino Resort: 1st and 3rd Thursdays, 10-11 a.m.
• Stilly Valley Center: 2nd and 4th Tuesdays, 11 a.m. to noon.
• Arlington Public Library: 2nd and 4th Tuesdays, 3-4 p.m.
• Stillaguamish Tribe Behavioral Health Programs, 2nd and 4th Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
• Sauk-Suiattle Indian Tribe: rotating schedule set by tribal administration
Jacqueline Allison: 425-339-3434; email@example.com; Twitter: @jacq_allison.
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