By Steven Monacelli
There’s an old, pithy saying — you are what you eat. If you don’t ever eat healthy foods, you probably won’t be healthy. But if you can’t even afford to eat all of the time, being healthy is next to impossible. A great many Texas know this reality all too well.
Prior to the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, 13% of Texans faced food insecurity. That number nearly doubled by mid-2021 to 21%, according to the Texas Research-to-Policy Collaboration Project. It still remains high as the pandemic continues — particularly among the Black community, which faces up to twice the rate of food insecurity compared to the national average.
But there are those in the community who refuse to stand idly by as families go hungry. Chief among them is Cheryl Jackson, founder of the Plano based nonprofit Minnie’s Pantry.
“In the wake of Covid, we had to work seven days a week…It was difficult to meet the need. But the community really came together. We were grateful the government helped with milk and produce boxes. Unfortunately that’s not the case anymore, because it’s still a need no matter what. We’re still fighting to make sure people receive healthy meals.”
For Jackson, hunger is an issue that hits close to home. “I used to be that person,” Jackson says. As a young couple, she and her husband struggled to make ends meet despite both working multiple jobs. Sometimes they couldn’t put enough food on the table.
“But as of this year, Minnie’s has served over 17.5 million healthy meals to families in need,” Jackson says.
In 2008, Jackson founded Minnie’s with not much more than a few cans of corn and an immense amount of determination. She did it as a way to honor her mother, the eponymous Minnie, to whom Jackson credits her tenacity.
“My mother lit a fire under me,” Jackson told Dallas Weekly. “And the flame never went out.”
Under Jackson’s guidance and persistent effort, Minnie’s has expanded to four locations across three states where thousands of volunteers help serve the hungry families in need. The fifth Minnie’s location is currently in the works, and for Jackson, it is a bit of a homecoming.
Before moving north to Plano, Jackson grew up in the Cedar Crest neighborhood of Dallas where her family owned a convenience store. Her mother’s old house still sits at the corner of Bonnie View and Prosperity. A few years ago, Jackson bought the lot across the street. That’s where she says the fifth Minnie’s location will sit — directly across the street from the late Minnie’s old place.
Minnie passed away suddenly in 2015, much to Jackson’s despair. “Although she’s gone, I still feel the spark. I still have the flame every single day and I still hear the voice that says — Cheryl, continue to help people.”
Coming up on the seventh anniversary of Minnie’s passing and Mother’s Day, Jackson reflected bittersweetly on her mother’s legacy. “Count your blessings if your mom is there,” Jackson says. “Love the people around you because life is so short. Minnie taught me that if you give what you want to receive, you will receive what you gave.”
Indeed, Jackson is a living model of that mindset. Her giving has garnered widespread praise, accolades, and the support of big names and powerful people. She’s earned her nickname by making things happen. She’s also the kind that politely but firmly doesn’t take no for an answer.
For years, she told people she would bring Oprah to north Texas. In 2010, the PlanoStarCourier wrote about her hopes to team up with Oprah. Eight years later, Oprah attended Minnie’s 10th annual fundraising gala and donated $100,000
In 2015, Minnie passed away and it hit Jackson hard. She suffered from bouts of depression and anxiety, which nearly caused her to call it quits. “In true transparency, I literally said I can’t do it anymore. My sister was the one who came to me and said, Cheryl, you named it after Mom. This is literally God’s work. You’ve got to keep going.”
And so she did. Minnie turned to her faith to try to fight the despair. She volunteered for the faith-based MegaFest event, where she got the chance to meet actress and best selling author Roma Downey, a seed that recently bloomed with a benefit luncheon for Minnie’s that coincided with the release of Downey’s new book, Unexpected Blessings.
Although Jackson may make these sorts of things appear effortless — and the charisma she built as an entertainment reporter certainly doesn’t hurt — her persistence is anything but that. Combined with her rootedness in faith, she’s been able to maintain a dynamo-like pace that doesn’t give any signs of slowing down. And even when things have looked dark for her, those qualities have come back to keep her chasing the light.
“I remember being in a depression after my mother had passed,” Jackson says. “And I looked up and I said, God, if I’m supposed to keep going, give me a sign. And immediately I got a text from Oprah Winfrey. She said she had heard my had mom passed and that she was going to donate $100,000 in her honor. It’s like, well, I guess that’s a sign I believe. A sign to keep going.”
Quite an unexpected blessing, indeed.
Oprah continues to support Minnie’s, which has gathered an growing and increasingly impressive list of powerful supporters and backers. And necessarily so. Minnie’s doesn’t take any government assistance so that it can serve as many people as possible while keeping the requirements for receiving food aid at a minimum. The only thing people need to show is an identification card of some form and a lease or utility bill that shows their name and current address.
Through Minnie’s, families can get all that they need to make complete meals, and not just things like canned goods or cheese blocks. Fresh fruits, vegetables, and even meat — things often unavailable at other food banks.— are all on offer at Minnie’s.
“That’s why some people drive all the way from Arlington, Dallas, and even Fort Worth to get food boxes at Minnie’s. That’s why we do mobile distributions all over,” Jackson says. “Because hunger doesn’t have a zip code.”
If you’re a family facing food insecurity, would like to donate, or are interested in volunteering at Minnie’s, visit www.minniesfoodpantry.org to learn more.