Imagine a traveling bus equipped with food, health care professionals, educators and nutritionists serving communities where families in need have limited access to resources.
With the Travelin’ Table, a mobile food bus, that scenario will become a reality.
As Mel Curtis, director of the Moshannon Valley YMCA puts it, “the bus will be able to go into pocketed areas in Centre and Clearfield counties to feed children that are unable to get to one of our 24 sites that we feed in the summer.”
Travelin’ Table grew out of a partnership between the YMCA and CenClear Child Services, and now includes Penn State Health Medical Group, Central Pennsylvania Food Bank and affordable health care provider AmeriHealth Caritas.
“Hunger is something ... in central Pennsylvania ... that a lot of people don’t think is here,” Curtis said. The YMCA of Moshannon Valley, he said, prepares around 1,300 backpacks of meals and snacks each week for schoolchildren to take home on weekends during the school year.
According to the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank, 58 percent of families, 29 percent of children and 13 percent of seniors in its 27-county region report going hungry. Rural Clearfield County has one of the highest regional percentages of children that are hungry, at 21.1 percent, said Carla Fisher, marketing coordinator for the Williamsport branch of the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank.
Equipped with a full-size commercial kitchen, the Travelin’ Table will visit different communities within the two counties providing healthy, nourishing food to all families and children that need it.
Registered dietitians and nutritionists with the YMCA and CenClear will teach cooking classes on the bus for families with food provided by the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank.
In a separate area, Penn State Health will provide preventative medical and dental screenings.
Many families who do not have access to fresh or healthy food also do not have access to adequate medical care. Dr. Joseph Wiedemer, a family physician with Penn State Health, said the health care group is excited to bring “education and good food choices for the people in our region” and provide “a place where communities can be heard about their health care concerns.”
The bus will also include an educational component for children, providing books to “combat summer reading loss,” Curtis said. YMCA staff will teach financial literacy to children by setting up a mock farmers market and giving kids “Y bucks” to “purchase” food and learn how to use money.
The YMCA will also use summer interns to provide fitness classes and sports to get kids up and moving “so they’re not just sitting at home doing absolutely nothing,” said Curtis.
The bus is currently being manufactured in Georgia, but will be ready by Dec. 1. Curtis said they hope to unveil the bus at First Night State College on Dec. 31 and the PA Farm Show in Harrisburg in early January.