CHATHAM — A client bursting into tears was all it took to convince Chatham Council on Aging outreach coordinator Eva Souza that a new mobile food pantry was tapping into an unmet need.
The Family Pantry of Cape Cod in Harwich launched its new Healthy Foods to Go Wednesday with an early afternoon stop at the Chatham Council on Aging.
“We’ve been talking about this for several years,” Souza said. “Right now our focus is on seniors.”
“This is a godsend,” said Janet Ferlita, 83, after picking up groceries, including her favorite food item — peanut butter — on Wednesday.
Volunteers starting trundling grocery carts of prepackaged staples including canned beef stew and beans and shelf-stable milk to the vehicles of 15 clients at noon. By 1:45 p.m the pantry’s refrigerated truck was empty except for a few leftover vegetables grown in the pantry garden.
The plan is to expand the mobile van deliveries to councils on aging in Brewster, Eastham and Provincetown, said Pat Brophy, pantry program manager.
“They could be folks who have transportation problems to get down to the main pantry,” he said.
The concept of the mobile food pantry has taken off recently, with the Falmouth Service Center running mobile markets in cooperation with local schools for the past three years.
Even non-pantry groups are getting into the act.
The Cape Organization for the Rights of the Disabled (CORD) has painted a donated Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority van bright yellow for a mobile food pantry for its clients, with service expected to start in October.
The mobile van is open for public viewing from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday at Stop & Shop on Attucks Lane in Hyannis, CORD Executive Director Coreen Brinckerhoff said.
“We have people in here who haven’t eaten,” Brinckerhoff said about her agency’s clientele. “They don’t know where their next meal is coming from.”
A dozen agencies that partner with the Greater Boston Food Bank have “separate dedicated accounts with us for their mobile efforts,” according to food bank spokeswoman Catherine Drennan.
“There are many populations who are food-insecure because of access issues,” Drennan said in an email. “They cannot access the right foods they need because of either affordability or lack of transportation.”
Access to affordable food is a particular problem in areas with high costs of housing and living, said Ross Fraser of the nonprofit agency Feeding America.
The agency’s annual map of hunger shows 21,340 people facing “food insecurity” in Barnstable County.
But an estimated 38 percent do not qualify for government programs such as SNAP, formerly known as food stamps, Fraser said. He said that even people who receive SNAP benefits may find they are not enough to get through a month’s worth of food.
Ferlita said the Healthy Foods to Go program — which will visit the Chatham COA once a month — will help her stretch her food budget.
“The last time I went to shop, it almost took the pay I had made,” said Ferlita, who cleans houses two days a week. “I saw my food bill go up and up and up.”
Ferlita said she considers the Healthy Foods to Go program the equivalent of a wonderful holiday gift.
“Love you!” she told the pantry and senior center staff and volunteers. “Merry Christmas.”
— Follow Cynthia McCormick on Twitter: @Cmccormickcct.