It’s a sunny Saturday morning at Mount Zion Lutheran Church in Tucson, Ariz., and the parking lot at the foot of Cat Mountain is bustling like a farmers’ market. Shoppers are lined up to approach long tables heaped high with squash, beans, tomatoes, melons and more. As fast as shoppers select from the bounty, volunteers pile up more.
This is Market on the Move, where $10 entitles a shopper to 60 pounds of high-quality, rescued produce. The market moves from church to church because each site distributes produce only one Saturday per month.
Toni Joyce and Fred Hall are the Mount Zion members coordinating Market on the Move at the church. “We have fun with it,” Joyce said.
“It’s hard work, a lot of it,” Hall continued, “but the volunteers look forward to coming. We include everybody … willing to volunteer.”
Some heave cases of produce from tall stacks down to display tables. Some sort damaged items into the “free chicken feed” bin. Those who use wheelchairs staff the money table. Children help their parents and talk with customers.
“We work as a family and a village,” Joyce said. “We have a joyous community.”
Craig Larson, pastor of Mount Zion, agrees. “When I’m going up and down the line, talking with people, and Pastor Dan Valasakos (who also serves the congregation) is out directing traffic, we’re just laughing because we’re doing. This church is doers. Service is infused in everything we do.”
Ethel Luzario is CEO of The 3000 Club, which operates Market on the Move through 40 distribution sites around Tucson and Phoenix. “We work with churches whose main goal is to serve their community,” she said. “We’re sharing one vision: food rescue and filling the need of their community.”
Every winter, Mexican farmers send billions of dollars’ worth of fresh fruits and vegetables to U.S. markets. Half of it comes through the small border town of Nogales, Ariz. Some produce doesn’t find a buyer. Maybe it’s not the preferred size or shape. Perhaps it’s not what’s in demand at the moment, like watermelon at Thanksgiving.
To truck unsold perishables to the dump would cost gas, labor and dump fees, but as long as a load is at least 80 percent good, Borderlands Food Bank in Nogales will pick it up for free. Whatever exceeds the food bank’s needs, Market on the Move will distribute — as much as 30 million pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables per year.
“We’re Borderlands’ marketing arm,” Luzario said. “A huge part of their budget is met by Market on the Move.”
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© 2014 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers