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MATA bus becomes ‘Green Machine’

news@dailyhelmsman.com

Published: Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Updated: Wednesday, April 10, 2013 21:04

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Photo by Jonathan Capriel | Staff

The Green Machine Mobile Market comes to life as volunteers help with the project that provides affordable food to downtrodden communities.


Students from Hollis F. Price Middle College High School along with representatives from the Memphis Grizzlies, Saint Patrick’s Church, the University of Tennessee and the University of Memphis teamed up today to prepare the Green Machine Mobile Market for launch.

The bus, which was donated by MATA at a cost of $1 a year, will travel through 15 neighborhoods each week and one route each day. There are five routes: Center city, South Center city, Midtown East, Uptown/North Memphis and South Memphis. Within each route are three locations that the bus will stop, including community centers and elementary schools. The bus will change locations every two and a half hours.

On May 6, the Green Machine will have its first day of service following a day of dedication on March 5 at 12:30 p.m., which will be held at Saint Patrick’s Church.

The Green Machine will offer fruits, vegetables and dried goods donated by Easy-Way, but at a cheaper price than their provider. Easy-Way will refill the bus every night. In addition to that, they will also have one-minute health tips with WMCTV 5’s Joe Birch courtesy of Baptist Memorial Hospital via a small television screen. There will be health professionals aboard the bus to answer any questions and help people in the specific communities find health services.

Antonio Raciti, visiting assistant professor of the City and Regional Planning Department at the University of Memphis said that citizens of Memphis expressed their dissatisfaction with food options in the area.

“One of the main issues the community raised is the lack of food services,” he said. “This is not a single issue. This is a common problem.”

Raciti said that he found it touching that so many individuals reached out to support the program. He said that, though the project is just beginning, the people who are volunteering their time are beginning to see their hard work come together.

“Big changes start with small steps,” he said. “If you want to see a change, you need to see the project move forward. Each person will have a piece of the project realized.”

Many of these neighborhoods are being provided with fruits and vegetables for the first time, according to Raciti. He said the project’s community-based approach is what made the citizens care so much as to volunteer their time for this much-needed service.

“When a project starts from grassroots and an issue relates to a community, you get a lot of support from [the community],” he said. “They feel like it’s their project.”

Other supporting organizations include the UT Graduate Nursing Program and Graduate Occupational Therapy Program, the Shelby County Health Department and the Community Foundation of Greater Memphis.

James Smith, director of Teaching Youth Entrepreneurship, said that there is a growing need within the community to have access to fresh foods, and this project is the stepping-stone to lowering the consumption of unhealthy food.

“We’re trying to get the people within our community to have fresh fruits and health foods instead of junk foods,” he said. “Junk food has overwhelmed the diets of populations in poor communities. It’s the food of choice.”

Smith said the main goal is to “hit every area that is considered a food desert.” He and others came together for a community meeting where they assessed the needs of the community’s inhabitants. The community indicated that they desperately needed better food options.

“The best part to me is we’re actually helping young kids in the community to have a long life and longevity, a balanced diet,” he said. “We’re working with the community for something good.”

Kenneth Reardon, professor and director of the graduate program in city and regional planning at the University, said that the University was invited by a coalition of churches in 2009 to help with various projects in impoverished neighborhoods. He said that he and several others from the University helped build community gardens as well as expand the spring festival at the Foote Homes housing project. According to him, that is how the project got started.

Daniel Peterson, who is involved with community investment for the Memphis Grizzlies, said that not being a native Memphian has opened his eyes to the lack of food choices in the area.

“As someone who did not grow up in Memphis, I noticed the lack of grocery stores in some areas like Downtown and other areas,” he said.

Peterson said he thinks the project is a good opportunity for people who not only do not have access to health foods, but also people who are not able to travel the long distances that are sometimes required to find health foods.

“It’s great for people who are caretakers, not that mobile, or don’t have access to cars,” he said.

When University volunteers Donaven Bowen and Walter Babineau gave the bus a touch-up, Hollis Price students decorated the lime green colored bus with a mural. Linda Peete, a reading teacher at Hollis Price, which is located inside of LeMoyne-Owen College, said the target areas are the most concentrated with obesity. She said it is important for young people especially to have the right influences where eating is concerned.

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