Online fundraiser for Mobile Farmers Market
By Elizabeth Sheeran
Most Americans sat down last week to celebrate life in a land of plenty, with a holiday that usually involves so much food we think of leftovers as part of the tradition. But a growing number of locals are having a harder time putting any kind of meal on the table these days. And healthy food choices are even tougher to come by.
Now city officials are hoping to tap into the holiday spirit during this season of giving, by launching an online fundraising campaign to help low-income residents buy fresh produce from Somerville’s Mobile Farmers Market.
“We’re really hoping that residents will give this holiday season to help their neighbors provide nutritious food for their families,” said David Hudson, director of Shape Up Somerville, which runs the Mobile Farmers Market program.
The mobile market truck brings affordable fruits and vegetables to senior center and housing development parking lots, to people who don’t always have access to healthy fresh food because of cost and transportation challenges. A matching funds program has helped the neediest shoppers stretch their produce budget even further, by cutting prices in half for residents who qualify for federal food assistance or low-income housing.
Mobile Farmers Market sales have nearly doubled since the program started just two years ago, and an increasing share of this year’s sales went to shoppers eligible for matching funds. But a $5,000 matching funds grant from the Walmart Foundation was used up by September this year, and the subsidies can’t come out of the city budget, so Shape Up Somerville is asking citizens to chip in for the cause.
Residents can donate online at Citizinvestor.com, a so-called crowd-funding website dedicated to raising money for specific projects sponsored by municipalities. Hudson said the city holiday fundraiser gives Somerville residents a way to directly help people in their own community. “This really is local giving,” said Hudson. “The kid whose dad can bring home more carrots, apples, peas and greens from the market because of matching funds just may be the student who sits next to your own child in school.”
Over 70 percent of Somerville public school students qualify for subsidized meal programs. And life just got harder for many residents last month, since the federal food assistance benefits commonly known as food stamps were cut abruptly when a boost from the 2009 federal stimulus program came to an end.
Because of the way Citizinvestor works, the Mobile Farmer’s Market has to reach a minimum goal of just over $3,000 in online donor commitments before any money actually goes to the project. If the campaign doesn’t hit that target by its January 19 deadline, contributions are never charged to donor credit cards. The project was two thirds of the way there by the start of this week, with more than $2,000 in pledges from 49 “citizinvestors.” And sponsors really hope to raise the $5,000 or more needed to keep matching funds going through next summer.
Mayor Joseph Curtatone, who said he plans to make a personal donation to the campaign, said the popularity of the mobile market shows that local families of all backgrounds are focusing more on nutrition. “But it is also an indicator of real need,” said the mayor. “This community has a history of coming together to support shared goals and I’m sure we can count on Somervillians to help other Somervillians and ensure this vital program continues.”
Tax-deductible contributions can be made at www.citizinvestor.com/project/somerville-mobile-farmers-market.