ARLINGTON – The mobile pantry, stocked with fresh produce and durable goods, rolls through the Stilly Valley.
The side of the truck opens to bins of fruit and veg, jars of peanut butter, and pasta wraps. Volunteers man the counter and distribute eggs, cheese, and meat. It may look like a grocery store on wheels, but there is nothing to buy here.
The mobile market is Arlington Community Food Bank’s new attempt to fight hunger in northern Snohomish County.
Food bank executive director Carla Rankin said the truck had more than 85 customers at the Stily Valley Center and the Stillaguamish Tribe Behavioral Health Center in its first week of service in early November. The market is open for a few hours at each stop. Everyone can take what they need with them for free.
“I would say 80% of people didn’t even know about the board or where it was,” she said. “And they desperately needed support for healthy eating. I think that speaks volumes that people are really fighting.
The panel is working on adding more stops. At least six so far.
The main food bank, tucked away in an industrial area near Arlington Airport, isn’t the easiest or most visible spot. Rankin saw these challenges firsthand when she took up her position in March 2019.
“Within the first two weeks, the phone rang and rang and rang and people were like, ‘I can’t get there. Where are they? I can’t come there,'” she said.
She recalled visiting a bookmobile in rural Darrington during her childhood. She thought of a similar concept: a “Foodmobile”.
For a year, Rankin researched vehicles, looking at beer trucks and public transit vans. She found the perfect solution: The Farmers’ Truck, a company based in New Brunswick, in northeastern Canada. The company builds mobile market trucks equipped with refrigerators and sliding sales bins. A white exterior is a blank canvas for custom design.
The food bank board approved Rankin’s plan in early 2020. She then recruited students from Arlington High School to help with fundraising.
“They took over the mobile pantry and were the first fundraising engine behind it,” she said.
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the students raised more than $19,000.
The City of Arlington contributed $60,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funds. The panel also received donations of $10,000 each from SMARTCAP, a real estate investment firm, and Pivotal Construction, a related construction company.
The food bank made a deposit on the truck in June 2021. Rankin flew to Maine in January to drive the mobile market back to Arlington.
But the Canadian-made truck had to be cleared by US Customs before it could cross the border. Rankin said the wireless market finally arrived in July after a board member and his wife drove it across the country. The journey from the truck’s origin in Moncton, New Brunswick to Arlington was more than 3,500 miles.
Arlington-based Penaway Media created custom graphics for the truck.
Christina Carbajal, board member of the food bank, has been impressed with the mobile market since its inception. “It’s new every time you open it,” she said.
Sometimes it’s stocked with family groceries (pancake mix, syrup, fruit and granola cups). Volunteers display the day’s protein options on the counter. At a recent stop, a sign advertised Cornish game chickens, minced meat, milk and eggs.
Carbajal said some don’t have access to a traditional table because they don’t have reliable transportation or simply don’t know.
“(The mobile market) just makes it more accessible, and groceries should be accessible,” she said.
The mobile market needs volunteers. To volunteer, email [email protected] or fill out an application online at arlingtonfoodbank.org.
Visit the Cellular Market
The schedule is subject to change. Check the food bank’s website or Facebook page, facebook.com/ArlingtonWAFoodBank, for updates.
• Arlington Heights Fire Station: Tuesdays 1st & 3rd, 4-5pm
• Oso Fire Station: 1st and 3rd Wednesday, 4pm-5pm
• Angel of the Winds Casino Resort: 1st and 3rd Thursday, 10-11am
• Stilly Valley Center: 2nd and 4th Tuesdays, 11am to 12pm.
• Arlington Public Library: 2nd & 4th Tuesdays, 3-4pm
• Stillaguamish Tribe Behavioral Health Programs, 2nd and 4th Thursday, 11:00 am to 1:00 pm
• Sauk-Suiattle Indian Tribe: rotating schedule set by tribal administration