The Merced County Board of Supervisors hired a nonprofit group Tuesday to truck food such as fruits and vegetables to areas in the county that need it most.
The board unanimously approved a year-long $177,528 contract with Make Someone Happy, a Merced-based mobile grocery vendor and nonprofit. The organization was the only bidder, according to county staff.
“We thought this would be an opportunity to try to provide healthy food to the people of Merced County,” owner Don Bergman said.
Bergman, who owns the nonprofit with his wife, Nancy, said the truck, 30-foot trailer and refrigeration van will carry fruit, vegetables, dairy products and eggs to locations in the county designated as “food deserts.”
A food desert is an area where a large percentage of the population does not have transportation, is more than a mile from a grocery store and is considered low income.
Bergman said he will purchase his produce from Merced County farms as much as possible. He has contracts with three certified farmers markets in the county, as well as a few other farmers and producers in the area.
The mobile service will be able to take several types of payment, Bergman said, including cash, credit cards, CalFresh and EBT cards.
The move is an effort to reduce obesity, diabetes and other chronic diseases related to poor eating habits in Merced County. The program includes some education about the benefits of eating healthy for children, adults and seniors.
“We have a high obesity rate in Merced County, and this is one of our ways to help target and reduce obesity with children and families,” said Michelle Roe, the deputy director of the county’s Human Services Agency.
An estimated 43 percent of children in the county are overweight or obese, according to recent statistics from the county Department of Public Health. A 2010 UCLA Center for Health Policy Research study that included adults and children found that 34.3 percent of Merced County residents are obese.
Many of those people live in the county’s seven identified food deserts, according to county staff. The intersection of Winton Way and Atwater Boulevard, the Sluhr neighborhood in Atwater, and the intersection of Parsons Avenue and Yosemite Parkway are among those scheduled to be serviced by the food truck.
Roe said residents in those areas often have to drive out of town to get groceries. In other cases, those residents do all their shopping at a convenience store or eat an abundance of fast food.
Roe said the mobile market will also carry recipes, health information and a schedule of its route.
Program Manager John Palm said Human Services has maintained a program for several years that strives to educate residents about healthy eating and activity. The mobile market could allow those people to apply what they’ve learned, he said.
“This is taking the next step,” he said. “We’ve taught them, and we’ll continue to teach them, but now we’re helping, through this partnership, to provide access to the things we’ve been teaching them about.”
The kickoff of the Make Someone Happy program is planned for 2 to 5p.m. Nov.16 at Golden Valley Health Centers in Merced, 747 W. Childs Ave.