PreventObesity.net Leader Dara Cooper has worked to help free political prisoners from being unjustly incarcerated and led efforts to bring much needed resources to HIV/AIDS patients in Africa.
These days, she drives around on a converted Chicago Transit Authority bus selling affordable fresh fruits and vegetables to underserved communities — and Cooper says her job today has a lot of similarities to her previous missions.
“I’m an activist and a community organizer, and everything that I do has to do with human rights and equality,” Cooper tells the Inside Track.
Cooper is the senior project manager of Fresh Moves, a Windy City-based mobile grocery store that provides fresh produce to underserved communities via an old transit bus. Fresh Moves officially launched a year ago as a way to combat food deserts, as activists discovered a mobile market would be a quicker and more efficient way to bring healthy food to underserved urban neighborhoods compared to traditional brick-and-mortar stores.
The response has been phenomenal, Cooper says. The bus makes several stops each day in low-income communities across the city, serving everyone from little kids to senior citizens. When the Inside Track chatted with Cooper, she was on her way to a Headstart program site, for example.
“They are adorable,” Cooper said of the youngsters. “They just all come on the bus excited about vegetables, especially fruit… It warms my heart, because I know before us they didn’t have an option, between junk food and healthy food. And now that they have an option they’re coming to us.”
Since Fresh Moves first hit the road, communities across the Chicago have embraced the food bus and really taken ownership of it, Cooper notes. Thousands upon thousands of people bought fresh produce from the bus, eager to buy healthy products that the local corner markets and fast food joints simply don’t sell.
Seniors especially seem attached to the bus, because it reminds them of how people got food when they were younger, back when the milkman was a common visitor on city streets, Cooper says. Young people also are getting involved by serving as youth ambassadors, advocating for healthy changes in their community.
And when Fresh Moves celebrated its one-year anniversary on May 26, it sponsored a free community event featuring workshops and presentations on everything from making healthy baby food to food preservation to “acro-yoga.” Many of the demonstrations were delivered by community members and Fresh Moves customers.
“People in communities taking control of their communities, it’s just very inspiring to me,” Cooper says. “That’s what keeps me going, knowing that our communities deserve so much better.”
Fresh Moves has gotten a lot of media attention since its launch, as it was featured on NBC Nightly News, CNN and in publications such as the Huffington Post. Cooper says that she thinks the Fresh Moves story connects what’s happening in Chicago with communities across the United States who are also struggling with food access issues.
“The reality that people don’t have access to fresh produce is a huge reality,” Cooper says. “And believe it or not, even though it’s a reality that many people understand… there’s still so much more education and awareness to be made.”
Click here to connect with Dara Cooper.