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Trucks bring fresh food to the people who need it

A customer got groceries at the Fresh Truck stop in Mission Hill.
A customer got groceries at the Fresh Truck stop in Mission Hill.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

School buses generally ferry children, but Fresh Truck mobile markets carry something equally vital: fresh food.

Co-founder Josh Trautwein was working as a health educator at MGH Charlestown Healthcare Center when he heard from local families that it was difficult to shop for healthy food because the only local grocery store was shut down for a yearlong renovation. That inspired Trautwein to start About Fresh, which operates a program called Fresh Truck to bring affordable, healthy food into Boston communities that need it most.

The nonprofit purchases food wholesale, and during the growing season Fresh Truck buys from local growers and resells the food at around the same price to help families keep nutritious food on the table at affordable prices.

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The nonprofit operates three retrofitted school buses that have been converted to mobile grocery stores. The trucks accept a variety of payments. Beyond cash and credit, they also accept Electronic Benefit Transfer, Healthy Incentives Program, and Fresh Connect. This variety allows customers to purchase healthy produce in the way that best works for them.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, mobile markets would allow customers to board and shop on the three buses at 18 locations. But at the height of the pandemic, that was not possible.

“Ultimately, with the communities that we serve being most vulnerable to COVID-19, we knew our buses created a vessel and basically a perfect vector for the transmission of COVID-19,” said Victoria Strickland, director of communications and partnerships for About Fresh, in an interview.

After a brief shutdown, the program reopened with an open-air plan. Now, at most locations, customers order outside the bus while volunteers shop and package their orders.

Customers order online in advance and pick up their produce at four locations. Strickland says this has been beneficial to the nonprofit’s senior and disabled customers. As a result, Fresh Trucks hopes to continue and expand online ordering beyond the end of the pandemic.

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Diana Bravo can be reached at diana.bravo@globe.com.