It’s been a while since my last blog post and I had planned a much different type of post.

I had planned on telling you all about some things that have taken place such as new partnerships, great volunteers, new farm spaces, and the excellent start to our Mobile Grocery Market season but instead, I find myself writing this “keeping it real” post about being stuck on Struggle Street.

Perhaps I’ll showcase those great things in another blog post soon.

STRUGGLE STREET.  It’s all too real for us.  Forget the everyday struggles that all nonprofits like ours face such as funders not understanding or believing in what your mission is or how you approach what you do.  Forget those who for whatever reason do nothing but talk bad about StarkFresh.  Forget the people who do everything they can to tear down the credibility of the people working here, usually by telling outlandish stories and touching on people’s emotions.  Forget the uphill battle to try and do the right things at all costs, often at the personal sacrifice by our staff and volunteers.  Forget not being to help everyone that you know needs your services.  You get the point, I could go on and on.  Struggle Street is where we choose to exist, and StarkFresh is not alone on this street and that’s Ok.  We can handle it most of the time as our will to help others is incredibly strong.

With that being said, last week was a rough one on Struggle Street for those of us here at StarkFresh.  What should have been a joyous opening week of our Mobile Grocery Market instead found us stuck on the corner of Frustration Avenue.  Those of you that have been following Starkfresh for a while might remember the tragedy we experienced last year during the opening week of the Market, where our Veggie Mobile was vandalized and burglarized with $1000’s worth of refrigeration equipment was stolen.  Luckily, we were resilient enough to have a backup truck that we were able to mobilize while the damaged truck was being fixed, allowing us to keep on schedule and provide affordable, food throughout the community.

The outward support from the community was amazing and made us feel validated in what we were doing.  There were questions as to who did the egregious act, who would want to harm a group trying to do such good?  We have suspicions but no one was ever caught for what they did.  Internally, we thought that our advertising of the Market and posting pictures and information about our Veggie Mobiles made it easy for those who wish to harm us to know where to target us. We regrouped, moved our vehicles to a more secure location and thought all was well…until last week.

This year, instead of lots of buildup or fanfare surrounding the opening week of the market, we simply put out some pictures of our Mobile Grocery Market Schedule out on social media, to hopefully not have a repeat of what happened last year.  Unfortunately, this was for naught.

For the second year in a row, StarkFresh has experienced vandalism on the opening week of our Mobile Grocery Market.  This time, as it was obvious that we have two Veggie Mobiles, we experienced sabotage on both of them before the opening day of our Market Season.

Our newest Veggie Mobile was sabotaged by someone who seemingly knew exactly what they were doing.  Not only did they take bricks and throw them into the windshield, but their throws were also accurate enough to damage a refrigerant line for the refrigeration unit, rendering the truck unusable and out of commission for several days while it was being repaired. They were smart enough to avoid surveillance camera detection by utilizing a blind spot between two cameras.  Man, these repairs weren’t cheap (think of a refrigerator repair, then multiply that by a factor of 10).

No problem, right?  We can just use our backup, the original Veggie Mobile.  Good idea right?    Actually, the saboteurs had thought of this as well……

What’s that?  Oh, just a cut serpentine belt, rendering the van undrivable.

So for the second year in a row, we’ve been deliberately sabotaged by someone who seemingly doesn’t want us to be successful in what we do with our Mobile Grocery Market.  Here’s the thing though Tom Phillips and Teresa Kaminski are tenacious and if you kick us down we come back even stronger.  It’s Ok though, we’ve since left Frustration Avenue and have moved along to Determination Boulevard.

One day on the Mobile Grocery Market makes you realize how extreme this food access problem really is, and how much of a lifeline our program is for so many people.  Take this stop for example.  It’s not technically in a food desert area, being literally across the street from a Walmart, but is completely inaccessible for the residents due to a lack of sidewalks or safe walking access across a busy street.  Stories of less than $15 to spend for food for the month are not uncommon at our stops.  This is a different part of Struggle Street that many of you reading this blog might not fully understand.

So yeah, the saboteur temporarily won for a day, we had to delay the start of the season by a day, we spent money that we didn’t have to get the Veggie Mobiles up and running, But we also beefed up security and surveillance and we’re ready for the saboteurs (whoever you are) next time.  In fact, we hope that they finally start talking to their conscience before the “next time” and think about who they really are harming.

We’d love for you to join us on seeing firsthand in what we do.  We can always use an extra set of hands on our Veggie Mobile to help with surveys, order taking, etc or any dozens of other StarkFresh volunteer opportunities by contacting us here. If you don’t have the time to spare but would still like to help monetarily to pay for the repair costs we’ve incurred, we always welcome your donation here.

I love StarkFresh.  Anyone who has heard me talk about what we do or seen me in action understands this completely.  I love being part of a greater community of StarkFreshians and continue to advocate and to push for what’s right and necessary in Stark County.

I think I’ll end this post with an image that accurately portrays how we are feeling about things a full week after all this negativity happened.

My next post will continue with this feeling, stay tuned.

-Tom Phillips, Executive Director, StarkFresh