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A Perspective on Healthy Food Access

July 25, 2019

Nadine Dechausay, Director of Community Philanthropy, Communities Foundation of Texas

Before the crowds and the corndogs, on a quiet day in early June, more than 40 people from 30 organizations gathered in a conference room at the State Fair of Texas. CFT invited them there for a big conversation about food.

This was not a conversation about the handheld treats that make the Fair famous for 30 days a year. It was about the everyday struggle of many Southern Dallas residents to find and afford healthy food. 20% of Dallas County is classified as a food desert, defined as having no access to fresh produce within one mile of where they live. 

Food deserts are concentrated in low to moderate income neighborhoods that are predominantly Black and Brown neighborhoods like those surrounding the State Fair grounds. Given the impact of nutrition on wellbeing and economic participation, we see this as a challenge that effects health, education, community development and equity.  

At Communities Foundation of Texas, our mission is to partner with innovators, scientists, and entrepreneurs to confront complex social problems. Over the past year, more than twenty groups have come to the foundation seeking grants from the W.W. Caruth Jr. Fund to launch projects related to healthy food access in the Southern Sector.  The variety of proposals made it clear that, although we have a common understanding of the problem, we have not aligned around a coordinated set of solutions. That is no surprise or criticism. The geography is vast, and the challenge is at the system level.  

We began our internal discovery by creating a conceptual framework to describe the food ecosystem (see graphic below). We then reached out to Dr. Froswa’ Booker-Drew at the State Fair, an expert in group facilitation who has worked alongside community groups on food security, transportation, and other key issues, to facilitate a convening of organizations, and asked the team at buildingcommunityWORKSHOP to build an asset map to ground the discussion in data.


Our goals for the convening were clear:

  1. Increase collective awareness of organizations and initiatives working in this space
  2. Discuss gaps and opportunities
  3. Start to imagine collaborative projects that could be launched with Caruth funding

In the end, we met those goals and achieved one more:  

  1. Participants made new connections and generally agreed that they needed to partner more.  

  1. They articulated the many assets that need to be leveraged in this effort (e.g. land, workforce, etc.), and pointed out the key challenges (e.g. competing priorities and the size of the problem, etc.). They debated the often taken-for-granted assumption that the Southern Sector needs a commercial grocery store.  

  1. Five concrete intervention areas emerged from the discussion- leveraging non-traditional distribution sites; creating new retail solutions; making healthy food delicious and appealing; connecting food assets and solving the logistics issue; and advocacy. CFT has followed up to organize design teams that will work together to craft these ideas into funding proposals that are system-focused, informed by data, and vetted by the community. 

One unanticipated goal achieved was greater funder alignment.  Several people from the City of Dallas attended the meeting. Afterward, we followed up with Heather Lepeska (Business Development Manager, City of Dallas Office of Economic Development) and Laila Alequresh (Chief Innovation Officer, City of Dallas) to learn more about the funding the City had just awarded through the Healthy Food Dallas Initiative’s Community-Based Solutions Program along with their plans to distribute additional funds in the fall. It became clear that we are working toward the same goals and should not duplicate effort or make grantees apply twice. We agreed on an integrated strategy that will merge our funding and timelines, and leverage a new innovation crowdsourcing tool that the City’s Innovation Office is piloting to gather food solution ideas directly from the community. We are excited to be a part of a collaboration that includes Big Tex and the City of Dallas! 

Sarah Cotton Nelson, CFT’s Chief of Philanthropy, recently penned a blog post on listening that sums up the “why” of this entire effort: through listening to the experts who make change happen everyday, we envision possibilities that could not have been dreamed up in isolation. Implementation of this strategy will present its own challenges, but we are committed to walking alongside this dynamic group of innovators until we achieve our audacious goal of ensuring that every Dallas resident has access to healthy, affordable food 365 days a year (and corndogs in October). 

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

bcWORKSHOP map links:

To continue using the map layers created by bcWORKSHOP to ask your own questions and to understand what assets exist in the Southern Dallas Healthy Food Ecosystem: Click here

To submit more information to the webmap: click here

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