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Oasis in a Food Desert

Old Town Truck Serves Low-Income People

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IN A DOWNTOWN where food cart pods are commonplace enough to be ignored, the new cart that opened on Monday, September 24, at NW Couch and Broadway—in an area known more for social services facilities and nightclubs—could easily be missed.

But despite its familiar façade, this wasn't another niche cart looking to lure tourists or foodies. It's a food truck called My Street Grocery, aimed at Portlanders whose food choices place function and frugality over flair: those facing homelessness, struggling with poverty, or simply wanting a healthy meal on the cheap.

"It's a good option for me, especially because I eat this kind of food already," said Ray Thompson, a Central City Concern (CCC) clinic patient among the first customers in line on Monday. "But a lot of folks down here don't. This could change their mind."

My Street Grocery, which already makes 12 other stops around Portland, joined with CCC this month to expand to Old Town-Chinatown, a neighborhood teeming with social services that's not a food desert by federal standards, but where low-income people feel a lack of reasonably priced, healthy food. The cart is scheduled to visit every Monday from 1:30 to 2:20 pm.

"It's either Whole Foods in the Pearl, or fried food from the convenience stores," says Adrienne Karecki, director of business enterprises at CCC. "The cart's food will provide tasty, fresh, and cheap options for people in the area who need it most."

Alongside traditional convenience store wares (like milk, eggs, and bread), My Street Grocery offers an array of in-season local produce at a reasonable rate. A six-ounce container of local blackberries costs $2, compared to $3.49 at Safeway, while a loaf of Franz bread goes for $2.50, about what it costs at the Franz Bakery Outlet. The truck also offers preassembled meal kits, averaging $3 a serving. Anyone can shop at the cart, regardless of income.

"Our mission is expanding fresh food access to all," says Amelia Pape, co-founder of My Street Grocery. "The demographics of this neighborhood are exactly who we're trying to reach."

While My Street Grocery has been delivering to grocery-isolated neighborhoods, senior residences, and other lower-income areas since May, its operators waited to move to Old Town until they could work out the logistics to accept food stamps.

To help the truck's Old Town experiment succeed, CCC has scheduled its weekly nutrition class so it coincides with the truck's visit. If, after a month, the weekly service draws enough customers, CCC says it will consider funding a portion of the program.

"Some people may not be accustomed to fresh produce or cooking their own food," says Pape. "It's definitely going to require a bit of a behavior change for some."

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