Husband and wife Mike and Leah Driscoll come from similar backgrounds: They grew up poor in rural areas and share a passion for food and the community.
“I think we’re both just driven by a desire to see justice for everybody,” Leah said. “We definitely know what it’s like to not have a lot of resources.”
Their backgrounds and common passion are key reasons the couple is involved with the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation’s Twin Cities Mobile Market, a grocery store on wheels that brings affordable, healthy food into neighborhoods where residents lack easy access to grocery stores. According to Business Insider, the Twin Cities rank in the top five when it comes to so-called “food deserts” in urban areas.
“[My dad] was laid off for a couple of years and we wouldn’t have made it if we didn’t have help from neighbors and the church,” said Mike, a Wilder Foundation staff member who works with the Mobile Market program. “That’s what got us through, just a little bit of help and some assistance.”
The Twin Cities Mobile Market will serve areas in St. Paul, including Frogtown, the East Side, North End and West Side. The program plans to expand into Minneapolis later this year.
“Food access is a constant, not something that can be addressed once a month,” said Leah, Wilder Foundation’s program manager for Twin Cities Mobile Market.. “We’re not a delivery service and we’re not a food shelf. We’re a grocery store on wheels that’s selling food at affordable prices. There’s definitely a gap in the continuum that we’re trying to address.”
The Twin Cities Mobile Market is planning to launch sometime at the end of August and run a few times before the grand opening in September.
The idea for Mobile Market began to take shape in the fall of 2012 while Leah was working on her graduate capstone project at Hamline University’s School of Business. She researched food deserts in the Twin Cities, and later she and Mike concluded a mobile bus would help ease the problem. The Wilder Foundation acquired the program in its entirety earlier this year.
Mobile Market will sell fresh fruits, vegetables, dairy items, meat and dry goods with the goal of providing products to create healthy meals at affordable prices. Mobile Market will offer a variety of foods to a diverse population.
“We’re trying to be as culturally responsive in the food we have,” Leah said. “We’re proactively reaching out to let as many people know where we’ll be and when, and we’ll use the communication channels of our host sites to do this.”
Mobile Market will stop one to three hours at designated locations; the times will vary depending on traffic and the schedule of the communities served. “We want communities to use the mobile market as a community thing, a community gathering and community-building thing,” Mike said.
Mike said after Mobile Market launches, the program is looking to add other services, including providing recipes and cooking tips, as well as cooking demos and food samplings.
“It’s been cool to see the community response,” Leah said. “The more that we’ve been doing community outreach and community events, we’ve done about 20 of them, the more we’re affirmed that it’s the right thing to do, people want it and are excited about it.”
Clarification and correction
An earlier version of this article failed to make clear that the Twin Cities Mobile Market is a program of the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation. The Wilder Foundation acquired the program in its entirety earlier this year to advance the foundation’s efforts to improve community health and well-being in low-income neighborhoods. Mike and Leah Driscoll are Wilder Foundation staff members who work on the Twin Cities Mobile Market program. Leah Driscoll is the Wilder Foundation’s program manager for Twin Cities Mobile Market. The article incorrectly reported that Mike Driscoll graduated from the University of Northwestern-St. Paul.