My Street Grocery: Portland’s Mobile Market

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Healthy food travels to those who need it most

By Nathan Gilles

portland's mobile marketA middle-aged woman frail beyond her years walks up to Nurse Debra McKissack outside Legacy Good Samaritan Clinic in Northwest Portland and asks for some of the medical center’s grocery vouchers.

She says she’s been sick for the past week, that’s why she missed her last doctor’s appointment.

McKissack responds, and minutes later a coworker hands the woman three $5.00 vouchers. These certificates are part of a hunger abatement program funded by Legacy. And, luckily, the woman doesn’t have to go farther than the parking lot to cash them in. My Street Grocery, a mobile grocery business specializing in bringing healthy food to those in need, is waiting a few steps away.

My Street Grocery is run out of a cream-colored delivery van that founder Amelia Pape has set up like a farmers’ market stall.

Today the 30-year-old Pape is selling fresh, organic, seasonal fruits and vegetables; dried and canned goods; and bread. There are also “meal kits,” with recipe directions and ingredients from vegetables and meat to herbs and spices. Along with Legacy vouchers, she also accepts Electronic Benefits Transfer food stamps.

The woman works her way through the stall and, in the end, exchanges her vouchers for a big bag of groceries brimming with sweet corn, tomatoes and other fresh produce.

Pape says at first her business model was simple: keep prices low, and go where Portland’s low-income residents are. This, she says, didn’t work out. Now she’s trying a new tactic: partnerships.

From spring to fall, with the food she buys direct from farmers and local wholesalers, Pape and helpers make two stops a week: one at the Legacy clinic, the other at the low-income, homeless help center Central City Concern (CCC) in downtown Portland. At CCC, she shows up and provides a healthy option for the nonprofit’s clients. At Legacy, the clinic pays Pape for every voucher its clients spend at her stand. Pape says she hopes to expand her partnerships in the coming year.

And that could be good news for low-income Portlanders. Legacy’s McKissack sought out My Street Grocery and acquired the funding for the voucher program because of what she sees as the close tie between health and healthy food.

“Doing this work,” says McKissack, “I realized it wasn’t just about dealing with diabetes or congestive heart failure, it was about the fact that they [patients] were hungry.”

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