Kids’ tummies will be a little fuller this summer across Fresno County thanks to the new Rural Food Express Bus.
The full-sized bus, which will start making meal deliveries on Friday, is a project of the Fresno Economic Opportunities Commission with grant support from the national No Kid Hungry campaign.
It made its debut Wednesday at the AMOR Wellness Center in Mendota, which will be one of the five delivery points in rural Fresno County. The others are in Biola, Del Rey, Firebaugh, and San Joaquin.
No Kid Hungry, an effort of the nonprofit Share Our Strength, aims to end childhood hunger by helping launch and improve programs that give kids greater access to healthy food.
The colorful food bus sports the six winning drawings in the EOC-sponsored art contest to depict Healthy Food Super Heroes.
Rasul Mohammad, 9, told his mom Sarah Gaytan that he was pretty sure his picture of a carrot super hero would be a winner, but he was still excited enough to jump up and down and scream “Yes!” into a pillow when he heard the good news.
Rasul and the five other winning artists each received a $100 gift card provided by Fresno EOC commissioner Charles Garabedian Jr. and certificates from elected officials.
Broccoli is actually Rasul’s favorite vegetable, but the Sunset Elementary student said he opted for a carrot for his veggie super hero for a couple of reasons: “That was just the first thing to come to my mind, and it would kind of be easier to draw it.”
First Bus Started Rolling in 2019
The EOC launched its first Food Express Bus in 2019 to serve children and teens primarily in the Fresno area and has delivered more than 200,000 USDA-funded meals since then.
Jon Escobar, director of food services for Fresno EOC, said he expects the expanded program will serve 400 to 500 rural kids on the delivery days of Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. The program is open to anyone age 18 or younger, and they will not be required to show identification. Each child or will receive two breakfasts and two lunches, he said.
Mendota Mayor Rolando Castro recalled that when he was a youngster growing up in the west-side town, there was a resource called Summer Youth, which provided work opportunities and also meals. “Our parents were probably working in the fields, and if we were hungry we’d walk to the park to go get a cold lunch,” he said. “That’s how we would eat and how we would survive out here.”
Decades later, many families in Mendota and other rural communities are still faced with food insecurity — not having enough to eat.
Emilia Reyes, CEO of Fresno CEO and herself a native of Mendota, said the economic pressures on families are even more extreme now because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Now we’re worrying about rent. We’re worrying about jobs,” Reyes said. “It’s very disheartening for me living in Mendota, the heart of agriculture … and it really is difficult for families to access food. Don’t get me wrong, I love the season right now, is it watermelon season or cantaloupe season? Oh, my goodness. You know, we definitely get advantage of fresh foods, but in the winter, it’s dire straits.”
The Rural Food Express Bus will serve a second purpose as a designated Safe Place, providing a mobile safety zone for kids in crisis, said Michelle Tutunjian, Fresno EOC chief operating officer. A yellow-and-black Safe Place placard is on the back of the bus.
Fresno EOC already administers 308 Safe Place sites, and the Rural Food Express Bus will be the 309th, she said.
Schedule for the Rural Food Express Bus
Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays starting July and ending Aug. 20
Biola Community Garden: 9:30 a.m.-10:15 a.m.
Maldonado Park, Firebaugh: 10:51 a.m.-11:36 a.m.
AMOR Wellness Center, Mendota: 11:51 a.m.-12:36 p.m.
Garden Valley Homes, San Joaquin: 1:29 p.m.-2:14 p.m.
Del Rey Park/Softball Field: 2:59 p.m.-3:44 p.m.