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Mobile Market helping make ends meet
August 16, 2023

By Terry Date | tdate@eagletribune.com

 

LAWRENCE — It’s Tuesday morning and raining on people huddled closely in a line that stretches along two sides of the Boys & Girls Club.

They wait, most of them under umbrellas, to enter and receive fresh spinach, pork, ground corn and more with the help of AgeSpan, through its Mobile Market program.

Virginia Almonte stands close to the line’s end, a patient grandmother holding a gray umbrella.

She’s grateful for the food, also including fish stew, dried beans, potatoes, peanut butter and lemons.

She will make several meals for her family at a time when high rents and food prices weigh heavily on people’s budgets and minds.

“It is very important,” she said, of the help people are receiving here. “After COVID, it is very important because everything is very expensive nowadays. So it plays a huge role in their lives.”

AgeSpan, a nonprofit based in Lawrence, formerly Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley and North Shore, is observing the one-year anniversary of its Mobile Market on Tuesday at the Water Street club.

Its farmers market-style distribution operates as its name implies. It’s mobile; and it’s a market. Only the food is free.

It helps some 250 Lawrence families, by distributing food the third Tuesday of each month, 10 a.m. to noon, year-round.

Inside a corner room, along three walls, are long tables stacked and lined with food.

In the center, a man swings a mop, drying the tiled floor where wet shoes have tracked in water.

People file in five at a time to receive food on a first-come, first-served basis.

Behind the tables stand a dozen or more AgeSpan employees and volunteers.

Kelly Beekman of Methuen, an AgeSpan employee, hands out fresh acorn squash.

She said she feels good about giving people nutritious, high-quality food that is familiar to them, to their cultures.

Beekman speaks Spanish and translates questions posed to Juana Mejia, an AgeSpan volunteer from Methuen who helps here at the monthly food distribution.

Why does she do it?

“I love it,” she says. “It gives me life. It is what makes me feel good. It feeds my soul.”

In general, what do the people, the recipients, feel about the help?

“I think they are happy to be saving a little money, and to be able to buy additional items at the grocery store,” Mejia says.

Each person, usually the head of a household, receives 12 or 13 items which, if bought, would likely have cost them around $60.

Those being served are of all ages but many are older, and many are women, some of them holding children’s hands.

One woman, with a beatific smile, has an infant who looks only days old, swaddled in a pink wrap high on her back.

Lawrence is a young city. Its public schools have 13,000 students, a majority of whom rely on public schools for their meals free of cost.

This summer, the school department served kids about 60,000 lunches, 22,000 breakfasts and 9,000 snacks, typically a fruit and milk or juice, says Caroline Noonan, head of nutrition services.

Forty-five school food service workers made and served the meals at 42 sites, including schools, pools and youth organizations.

Each day during the school year, in Lawrence grades K-12, about 8,000 kids eat breakfast and 9,000 eat lunch, free of cost.

Lawrence is an immigrant city, and has many first- and second-generation people from Spanish-speaking Caribbean countries, including the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, but also from impoverished and war- and drug-torn nations in Central and South America.

Lawrence, with a population approaching 88,000 people, ranks among the poorest if not the poorest of the state’s 342 cities and towns, according to state and census data on per capita and median income.

Meanwhile, the line moves slowly at the Boys & Girls Club.

The food is distributed until it runs out or noon.

AgeSpan Communications Director Susan Geier expresses her thanks to the club and local organizations that are helping them feed people in need.

AgeSpan program manager Ruth Ortiz hustles from the front to the back of the line keeping order and answering questions.

The manager expects that the number of families served today will reach 300.

The need continues.

First published: https://www.eagletribune.com/news/mobile-market-helping-make-ends-meet/article_a630ac98-3555-11ee-a82a-6f1163d5817a.html

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