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A Perspective on Healthy Food Access

July 25, 2019

Heather Lepeska, Manager, City of Dallas

“What’s eating you?” was the opening question posed to the room of healthy food stakeholders.  The answers were as varied as the interests represented by participants, with academics, community organizers, faith-based organizations, funders, institutions, non-profits all gathered to discuss what we can do together to improve healthy food access.  While the rules of the game prohibited answering “We need money!” the responses identified the holistic approach needed to truly improve healthy food access.

Many people are aware that a few years ago, the City made $3 million available for a large-scale grocery store in Southern Dallas.  There were no takers—not one application came in.  If the grocery store problem was solved simply by money, the healthy food problem would be much easier to resolve.  But because the solutions involve addressing access, affordability, and education, our solutions need to be multi-faceted as well.

The convening at Fair Park provided a chance for us to work together and identify our collective strengths and potential opportunities.  Our strengths of passion, subject matter expertise, and desire for collaboration make it seem possible that we can make progress in the food access problem.  Building from the intentionality of the convening, we can define common goals and resources, and move towards common outcomes.  One of the last exercises of the day was to create design teams to work towards pilot programs that could address the common themes that emerged from the day. These themes included leveraging non-traditional distribution sites; creating new retail solutions; making healthy food delicious and appealing; connecting assets and solving the logistics issue; and advocacy (including policy changes at state or local level, and lobbying).

Breaking down silos, each of the design teams will consist of multiple organizations.  By coming together and broadening the solutions (or at least needed next steps), we put ourselves in the best position to actually make an impact on addressing healthy food access. 

And this approach is being mirrored at City Hall as well.  Led by the City’s new Chief Innovation Officer, food equity has been identified as a top City priority.  For the first time, there are regular meetings with staff from eight departments that work on food issues in City Hall.  By working across our internal silos to leverage the knowledge, relationships and partnerships we all have, the City can become a stronger partner for initiatives moving forward.  As we add innovative approaches to the City’s existing programs, we are thrilled that Communities Foundation of Texas is interested in working with us as we continue to fund smaller scale healthy food initiatives, and we are excited to soon start crowd-sourcing ideas to improve healthy food access! 

In my notes from the beginning of the convening, my answer to “What’s eating you?” was the need to address the food access problem holistically by realizing its more than building grocery stores.  After the convening, I am optimistic that we are on the right path and am excited to put in the work to see the results and impacts from our collaborations.

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On June 6, the W.W. Caruth Jr. Fund at Communities Foundation of Texas along with the State Fair of Texas hosted a convening of nonprofit organizations interested in addressing food insecurity in the Southern Sector of Dallas. 



 
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