The City Council has approved incentives to ensure access to food in the last few years, but residents and community activists have urged greater action to fight rising food insecurity among Dallasites.
On April 23, Dallas City Council approved a $5.8 million incentive package to open a new Tom Thumb location in Redbird as part of a larger effort to offer accessibility to higher-quality food to lower-income areas. Developers will be breaking ground on the project sometime in 2024, with Tom Thumb set to open in the following year.
Other developments, such as the old Save U More building’s revitalization and re-establishment as Food Basket, provide another option for South Dallas residents. As the city invested $2.8 million into Save U More’s construction, Food Basket LLC has agreed to repay this sum if they fail to sustain the business for 69 months.
However, as made clear by the words, “NO SAGGING, NO HOODIES. NO SHOES, NO SHIRT, NO SERVICE,” emblazoned on the glass pane of the automatic doors of the entrance of Food Basket, grocery stores only serve demographics with money. Typically, this means individuals and families with a steady and reliable stream of income.
For those with less, there are food pantries. Residents living nearby in District 7 also suffer food insecurity and scarcity. Accordingly, non-profit organizations such as North Texas Food Bank have offered assistance to residents via several distribution centers. Distribution sites like MLK Fresh Produce Distribution Center serve District 7 residents and its surrounding neighborhoods. But as poverty has continued to affect residents – with roughly one in three families in District 7 dependent on SNAP/WIC programs – many believe that the city needs to invest more to incentivize grocers to establish stores with affordable prices in lower-income areas like District 7 so that residents may take full advantage of these programs.
“I applaud the food pantries and what they provided to the community, but it’s a band-aid and the community needs these bigger stores,” says Okema Thomas, community activist and volunteer with Bring the Light Ministries and Dallas Bethlehem Center. “[District 7 Residents] have paid more taxes than anyone else because they need to go outside their communities to get what they need. Use the money within the city and use it to provide for the people. All the people.”
When asked if the number of food pantries in South Dallas/Fair Park indicated the need for more food options, a spokesperson for City Hall explained that City Council does not analyze this when approaching where to provide incentives. “Food pantries would not help or hurt the case for another grocer. That would be based on the income levels of an area and the viability of the stores. Food pantries are typically considered to be serving a separate economic demographic.”
Existing stores in the area, like Save-A-Lot and Fiesta Mart, push to meet the daunting task of providing enough groceries to the residents. “Necessities are low on busy days and sometimes the produce doesn’t look good. There usually aren’t enough registers, you can be here for hours on some days,” one shopper says. “Card payments are down sometimes. It’s definitely inconvenient, to say the least.”
As grocery delivery holds the potential to ensure accessibility to higher-quality products, the City Council has enacted a strategy more focused on securing these services for lower-income areas than directly instituting new programs. In 2019, City Council offered $2M in incentives to Kroger Co. to establish a distribution center with conditions, one of which stated that no redlining could occur and service areas must include lower-income zip codes.
As the City Council has discussed a free food delivery program without any concrete plans, residents have given a lukewarm response to the possible measure. “When you have broken promises and broken policies, you’re going to have to build some trust. That is where we are at. It is time for a change because the trust is not there,” says Thomas.
Establishments like Tom Thumb offer free delivery to SNAP/WIC recipients, but rising food costs due to inflation complicate the utility of the programs. “[In March,] my SNAP benefits were cut back down, and food prices going up with less money to work with has been really tough,” a shopper explains. Some community activists, like Thomas, believe raising the minimum wage in Dallas is one key solution to the problem of food shortage and inflation in District 7, as residents might be able to afford a wider variety of higher-quality food options.
“If they pass a bill on minimum wage, the people would be able to afford to buy the quality essentials they need,” says Thomas. “We would have more single mothers with opportunities to become homeowners.”
According to a study by the Economic Policy Institute in 2021, a minimum wage increase would improve the pay of half of all workers in the DFW metroplex, roughly 181,000 people. Of that 181,000, this would benefit about 23,000 Black workers, about 46% of all Black working residents in the metroplex. Census data shows that areas like District 7 hold a high proportion of Black residents in Dallas, making up about 84% of the population in the district.
Dallas previously set the minimum wage for its city workers to $15 an hour and recently proposed raising it to $18 an hour in their 2022-2023 budget proposal. Additionally, Dallas enforced higher wages outside the bounds of those employed by the city when they passed legislation requiring construction workers to be paid at least $15.50 an hour. Other metropolitan cities, such as Denver and Seattle, have raised their minimum wage in 2023 to $17.29 and $18.69, respectively.
It is up for debate whether a stronger sense of trust is established between a community and its city government through greater access to resources, higher valuation of labor, or a wider social safety net to alleviate food insecurity and poor nutrition. The City Council of Dallas, like most bodies of city government in the United States, makes no guarantee of accessibility to food to all residents. As the economy nationwide worsens, SNAP/WIC assistance becomes less effective, and quality food becomes more scarce, residents remain susceptible to economic hardship. With a future uncertain, the signage of the South Dallas Food Basket offers an important reminder to us all, “NO SAGGING, NO HOODIES. NO SHOES, NO SHIRT, NO SERVICE.”
To learn more about food assistance through North Texas Food Pantry, visit ntfb.org/our-programs/get-food-assistance.