Access to food can be difficult if you live in a low-income neighborhood without a grocery store nearby. But Mission Waco is looking to change that through an innovative model. For KWBU, Avery Lill reports on Jubilee Market, the non-profit grocery store that Mission Waco is opening to make it easier for people in an under-resourced neighborhood in North Waco to buy healthy and affordable food.
If you’re without a car and there’s no grocery store within easy walking distance, how do you get food? That’s a question that a significant portion of Waco’s population has to ask. Jimmy Dorrell, Executive Director of Mission Waco explains the problem facing many Waco neighborhoods:
"There are no more grocery stores in urban centers anymore”, Dorrell says. “In fact what has happened is neighborhoods like North Waco is a food desert. And so, because we’re more than one mile away from the closest grocery store our people have to walk or ride the bus to get affordable and healthy food.
The nearest grocery store to the residents of this North Waco neighborhood is 2.2 miles away. David Pooler, Associate Dean of the Diana R. Garland School of Social Work, estimates that roughly half of Waco is a food desert. What that means in practice is that many people do their shopping at convenient stores where the prices are high and the nutritional content is low. That can have a significant impact on community health.
“One of the things when we see when you see obesity, for example”, Pooler explains. “Sometimes people are like, ‘Oh well people are eating too much.’ No it’s really not people eating too much. It’s that they don’t have access to healthy food. So obesity is very much linked with food deserts.”
So how do you bring healthy options to urban centers?
Mission Waco is working on one solution to the food desert in North Waco They’re starting a non-profit grocery store. The building they are moving into, located at the corner of Colcord Ave. and N. 15th Street, was previously a convenient store, but it will get a facelift in the coming months.
“This store has a lot of great memories, but mostly for the last 20 or 30 years has been a convenient store that was very predatory by nature, took advantage by selling day old bread for more than the cost of fresh bread”, Dorrell says, standing outside the soon-to-be community grocery store.
“It had no healthy food, no produce at all, and would sell the lottery tickets and the 40-ouncers and all the kind of things that neighborhood people get trapped in.”
When they bought the store, Mission Waco held a community meeting to get input on how to re-purpose the building. Seventy-seven percent of those who came asked for a grocery store.
But starting a grocery store is not without its obstacles. The profit margin is thin, and in order to improve community health you need to focus on fostering good eating habits, Dorrel says.
“And just because you have good healthy food doesn’t mean older folks that are caught in the pattern of eating the unhealthy stuff are going to immediately change”, Dorrel says.
“What we do know, though, is that kids, and youth and children that learn to eat right younger and learn to eat healthy foods will stay that way, so this—part of our deal is to have a health component. We’ll actually have one our workers will be a health worker to train people to work in the school nearby to work with children in the area to help create an atmosphere.
Mission Waco’s goal overall is to offer access to healthy and affordable food while creating a neighborhood atmosphere of healthier eating through education and community involvement. They plan to provide community members with so-called “Oasis Cards” to those who live nearest to the store. These cards will give neighborhood residents the best deals on groceries in order to assure affordability.
Despite Mission Waco’s efforts, the majority of Waco’s food deserts are not going away anytime soon. Pooler says to change this, communities need to look for viable solutions.
“I wish that our community could see this as a ‘we’ problem and not a problem for parts of Waco”, Pooler says. “When there are people in Waco that don’t have access to that, that is our problem. And I think that all people, if you will, every segment of our community needs to get involved in solving it.”
Mission Waco will renovate the building over the summer, and they hope to open this fall. As of last week, Jubilee Market had reached 65 percent of its fundraising goals.