A white, aging school bus covered in drawings of fruits and vegetables is coming to schools, community and senior centers, subsidized housing complexes, and fairs near you.
Inside the bus, named “Manny,” is a mobile kitchen and pop-up pantry that will be used to teach people of all ages how to eat and cook healthy foods on a budget. It is operated by Manna, a non-profit organization that strives to end food insecurity and hunger in Montgomery County.
The converted school bus will mainly be stopping at targeted areas, where food insecurity is the highest, she said.
Manna’s 20 priority areas include neighborhoods in Germantown, East County and Long Branch.
DeCarlo said the skills taught inside Manny are important, because 70 percent of County adults do not eat the recommended number of daily vegetable servings.
Manny is hitting the road this month, after completing an eight-part pilot testing program. Results of the test program were good. Eighty-eight percent of participating third through fifth graders said they could now read a recipe by themselves. Ninety-four percent said they now talk to their family about healthy eating more than twice a week, and 75 percent said they could measure ingredients without any help.
Manny, a retired 2005 Washington County Public Schools bus, is expected to be on the road three days a week, often stopping at several sites each day. Depending on the location and the audience, the bus can be a place to distribute free healthy food or provide a hands-on cooking classroom or cooking demonstrations for larger groups at locations like a senior citizens community center.
“Some days it will distribute foods, other days it will hold classes at elementary schools,” said Manna CEO Jackie DeCarlo.
“We’ve been doing a lot of research,” DeCarlo said. One thing she learned was that a lack of transportation can be a huge barrier in purchasing healthy foods.
“We want to get to where they are,” she said of the people Manna hopes to reach.
Some classes will just be held for elementary school students, others will include families. Its intergenerational cooking class series will offer globally-inspired dishes with lots of fruits and vegetables, DeCarlo said.
Cooking classes are based on the Common Threads curriculum, an eight-part course designed by a national organization to teach children how to eat healthy and prepare their own healthy snacks.
Manna often will spend Fridays at various County elementary schools where Manna hands out food. The goal here is to engage recipients, she said.
The classes are all designed with specific participants in mind. For children, the goal is to get them to try new foods and think about what they are eating and to share their new knowledge with their whole family. For seniors on a fixed income, the goal is to show how they can still cook healthy meals for their small households or in a smaller kitchen than they are used to, if they have moved from a house to an apartment.
It cost about $100,000 to fix up the bus and staff it, DeCarlo said.
Manny has been in the works for about a year. During that time, Manna held a Facebook contest to name the bus. While Manny was the clear favorite, DeCarlo admitted, “My vote was ‘Butternut.’”