With financial assistance from the City of Bethlehem’s Community Development Block Grant COVID-19 funds, the Kellyn Foundation has been offering an Eat Real Food Mobile Market in the former Ahart’s parking lot since May 1.
The Mobile Market provides fresh, locally grown produce to South Bethlehem residents, including Lehigh students, and takes place every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Eric Ruth, co-owner and CEO of the Kellyn Foundation, said the foundation has been around for 15 years.
“We are a 501(c)(3)—our mission is to promote healthy lifestyles across a whole community,” Ruth said. “We have four main initiatives under the heading of the Healthy Neighborhood Immersion Strategy.”
The Eat Real Food Mobile Market is a part of the Food Access Initiative.
The objective of the food access initiative is to “ensure that each neighborhood has healthy whole food options on a year-round basis, sourced as locally as possible, that are convenient, accessible and affordable,” said the Kellyn Foundation website.
The closure of Ahart’s last April further solidified South Side’s declaration as a “food desert,” by USDA. There is only one grocery store, which is C-Town.
The City of Bethlehem enlisted the assistance of the Kellyn Foundation to fill this gap in resources.
While there are plans for a new grocery store to open eventually, the Kellyn Foundation will continue to serve the community until a new grocery store opens, Ruth said.
“We’re not going away,” he said.
Ruth said while South Side residents used to be eligible for vouchers of up to $20 worth of produce once a week, they are no longer available.
“Both we and the city anticipated the funding surviving to the end of October, but the response was so large that we basically used all the funding already,” Ruth said. “The City of Bethlehem is looking into other potential sources of revenue and monies that might be available to continue this longer.”
Bethlehem resident Steve Chase has been coming to the Mobile Market for the past three months.
“How can you go wrong? You get $20 worth of free food and pay the difference,” Chase said. “It’s a great opportunity. It’s all fresh produce.”
With the pandemic, Chase said, most people are in a situation where they are limited financially, and affordability is more important than ever.
Chase recognizes that Lehigh students are also under a financial burden and feels it is important that college students take advantage of the Mobile Market.
“It’s all great,” Chase said. “I’ve never gotten anything bad here. It’s all locally grown, so that’s another thing, giving to and for the people.”
Chase said he will continue to attend the Mobile Market even though there is no more funding through the city, emphasizing that the produce from the market is still much more affordable and accessible than other grocery stores.
Sarah Starr, ’22, just attended the market for the second time.
“I needed to go grocery shopping, and the other (market) is really far away,” Starr said.
Starr said she decided to try out the Mobile Market after hearing about it through some friends. She left the market with broccoli and asparagus.
“So far, so good,” Starr said. “Everyone is super sweet here. I heard their funding ran out, which is really sad, but I’m still going to come.”
Starr said she recognized the importance of healthy food options for South Side residents.
“There’s not that many groceries around here, and obviously, residents need that,” she said.
Ruth said participation is crucial in the following weeks.
“If participation drops, the city won’t refund it,” he said.
He said he is pushing residents to continue to come even without the $20 voucher.
Many South Side residents have been attending the Mobile Market since it opened in May and have built a strong relationship with Ruth and the other volunteers from Kellyn.
“It’s been a hard time for a lot of families and to have access to this and to have it without any pretense,” Ruth said. “We just are doing this together. So, it’s really good. They’re great. I love them. And I think they love us. We talk about health and nutrition and eating real food on a regular basis.”
Both Chase and Starr said they will continue to buy groceries from the Eat Fresh Mobile Market.
“It brings the community together,” Chase said.