Supporters hold out hope for future of Mobile Market

May 17, 2012
by Kenya Evans

Volunteers Judy and Mike Howden (left) help a customer check out at United Methodist Children’s Services Mobile Market site in Washington Park. (Photo by Kenya C. Evans)

Customers and supporters of the Mobile Market program expressed disappointment and frustration after learning that the program is scheduled to close in June.

“We live in a food desert,” said Mike Howden, who volunteers with his wife at the Mobile Market in Washington Park, sponsored by United Methodist Children’s Services (UMCS). He and his wife, 40-year residents of the neighborhood, are members of the health and wellness committee that brought the market to the area.

“It’s easy for us because we have a car, and we can go any place,” Howden added. “(We) know the situation for many people in the neighborhood is that they don’t have transportation, and there’s no grocery store in walking distance. All there are is the corner groceries, which do not have healthy choices of food.”

Mary Wright, 56, a first-time shopper at the UMCS location at 3939 W. Lisbon Ave., said she would be sad if the market closes. “You can get (food) cheaper here; especially for the children during the summer (when) they’re out of school, and it all seems to be nutritional food, so I think it would be a loss.”

(Photo by Kenya C. Evans)

Milton Richardson, a 64 year-old double amputee and shopper at Locust Court – a city of Milwaukee housing authority site at 1350 E. Locust St., said the Mobile Market is convenient; it’s difficult for him to get out to stores, particularly during the winter. “I prefer that they keep it,” Richardson added. “It’s right here where I live and it’s cheaper.”

SHARE Wisconsin, the volunteer-run food-buying program, closes its doors in May, but is seeking a new sponsor to sustain the successful Mobile Market program, according to the executive director.

“If we are successful in recruiting a new sponsor to take it over, it will continue past June.  If not, we will unfortunately have to close the Mobile Market,” said SHARE Wisconsin’s Executive Director Paulette Flynn.

SHARE’s prices on food options range 30-50 percent lower than food stores, according to its website. However, due to a struggling economy and the increased access people have to healthy foods at discount retailers such as Walmart and Aldi, “It’s impossible to cover overhead expenses,” Flynn said.

The Mobile Market’s sales and customers per month have remained steady, according to Antonio Butts, Mobile Market manager.

“I definitely understand how things have changed for our classic pre-order SHARE program, but the Mobile Market is totally different because we have a captive audience by going to where our customers are,” he added.

SHARE has announced the Mobile Market will close through mailings, electronic newsletters, newspaper ads and in person at the market sites. Customers would like to help to keep the market going, according to Butts.

“They want to know who they can write to, but there’s no one to write to,” he said. “Some people are upset, some people are disappointed, and then some people are hopeful, like a lot of our volunteers.”

Butts plans to continue with the market’s regular schedule for the next 45 days. In the meantime, he remains positive about the discussions taking place with possible sponsors. “Hopefully something surfaces as far as a way to keep the program in existence,” Butts said.

Some Mobile Market supporters also remain positive about the chances of finding another sponsor.

“I’m fairly optimistic that something can happen,” said Bess Earl, sustainable communities coordinator at Washington Park Partners. The market began serving her neighborhood just five months ago.

“It’s such an amazing program, and it does so much good, not just for our neighborhood, but throughout Milwaukee.”

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