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United Way Hosts Summit to Address Food Access as Texas Is Named the Most Food-Insecure State

The event brought together nonprofits, local corporations and retailers, individual change-seekers and others to identify solutions for improving food security.

May 22, 2024

Access to food is essential for maintaining good health. The availability of regular, nutritious meals significantly influences our focus areas of education, income and health, enabling children to learn and develop, succeed in school, and go on to achieve a stable career.

Unfortunately, Texas is now the most food-insecure state in the country. In North Texas, one in eight people, or 640,000 of our neighbors, face hunger. That figure includes one in six children. In fact, Dallas County has the fourth-highest rate of food-insecure children in the nation.

At United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, we’re committed to improving food access to ensure that every North Texan can fully thrive. And on May 16, we united change-seekers from across the community in support of this goal, hosting a Food Access Summit that sparked insightful conversations and spurred forward momentum.

Highlights of the Food Access Summit

The event opened with an overview and insights from business and philanthropic leaders who are dedicated to improving food access and who discussed current local efforts to reach more North Texans. These speakers included:

  • Justin Lonon, chancellor of Dallas College
  • Brian Angle, market executive at Bank of America
  • Hunter Hunt, CEO and president of Hunt Consolidated Energy
  • Ashlee Kleinert, co-founder of The Good Foundation and Ruthie’s For Good
  • Megan DeFauw, managing director and partner, Boston Consulting Group

The summit also featured a keynote address from Hunter Hunt and Doug Rauch, founder and president of Daily Table and former president of Trader Joe’s, each of whom discussed their own work in the area of food access and explored the role of Conscious Capitalism in building sustainable food solutions.

The second keynote featured Melissa Buckley, director at the McKesson Foundation, who shared the organization’s commitment to food access and security through its Healthy DFW project and discussed the importance of local solutions and leaders in driving progress in this area.

Food Security in North Texas

Next, we welcomed an inspiring panel of local experts:

  • Benaye Wadkins Chambers, President and CEO, Crossroads Community Services
  • Anga Sanders, Founder and CEO, FEED Oak Cliff
  • Ashlee Kleinert, The Good Foundation and Ruthie’s fueled by Good
  • Tonya Edwards, Director SNAP and Social Services Assistance
  • Clarissa Clarke, Government Relations Officer, North Texas Food Bank

The panel was moderated by Susan Hoff, chief strategy and impact officer at United Way of Metropolitan Dallas.

Finally, the event concluded with an inspiring address from Dan Pallotta, author and filmmaker, whose documentary, “UnCharitable,” we recently screened.

Insights From Our Panel Discussion

What’s driving food insecurity?

“Yesterday, we released a report from Feeding America, revealing that Texas is now the No. 1 state in food insecurity,” Edwards said. “That’s 5 million individuals in the state of Texas facing hunger. What’s alarming about that is that one-third of those affected are children. The problems include inflation, the cost of housing, the cost of food, the food deserts, and livable wages. We are not paying enough to cover the cost of living here in our communities.”

How does ZIP code impact health?

“You can’t have a world-class city like Dallas when over half of the city by geographical land mass is a food desert, and hundreds of thousands of people don’t have access to quality food,” Sanders said. “That’s an abomination and it needs to stop. So what we are trying to do is rectify the situation. There’s no reason we can’t do this. Dallas is home to the most unhealthy ZIP codes in Texas. It has higher rates of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension and cancer than any other place. And all of those can be significantly impacted by what you consume.

“Your ZIP code should not determine your life expectancy, but it does. A study Dallas County Health Needs Assessment says men who live in 75215 have a 26-year shorter life expectancy than men in 75204. 75204 is the Oak Lawn area. 75215 is a food desert in South Dallas.”

What solutions are improving food security today?

“One key aspect of our work is summer meals,” Chambers said. “However, we discovered that simply providing extra food in the summer isn’t enough. Children need nutritious, self-serve food not just during summer but also during spring break, after school, Christmas break and other times when school is closed. Many children rely on school for one or two meals a day, so when school is out, parents must find a way to provide all meals, which is particularly challenging for food-insecure families.

“We need additional solutions. When parents are healthy, their children benefit. Therefore, supporting parents with living wages, educational opportunities and mental healthcare is essential. The stress of not knowing how to feed one’s family can be overwhelming, and many people come to our facility seeking support. Our goal is to offer a place where they can find help and know they are not alone.”

What are some creative ways to improve food security?

“I started a food truck business, and the model evolved where we are a second-chance employer,” Kleinert said. “My workforce has completely changed my life and my perspective and my knowledge about our community. I’ve learned so much, and I’m up here because I don’t know the answer. I just know I have 25 employees that based on their life circumstances and some decisions that were made, the same decisions I would’ve made if I were in their circumstances, now are faced with a lack of resources of every kind and food insecurity is a huge piece of that.

“We are like a restaurant on wheels. We’re able to go out to the community and my team loves nothing more than to go serve and feed others because they know what it’s like. Some of my employees come to work hungry, so we’ve learned to provide healthy options like cereals, fruit and protein bars. Their health matters.

“One young employee once showed up with her child, who was eating Doritos for breakfast because that’s all they had. This is a real issue happening in our backyard, and my team and I experience it daily. I care deeply for them.

We have been invited to open a restaurant with St. Phillips, which is very exciting. We’ll be located on Martin Luther King Boulevard, opening in late August. We provide a living wage and wraparound services, offering support in a dignified way while listening to the community. This is our model, and we are figuring it out as we go along. We are committed to doing the work and contributing to the efforts already out there.”

Take 2 Minutes to Advocate for Expanded Food Access

United Way is committed to ensuring all North Texas children and families have access to nutritious food—and we believe our leaders should share that commitment!

Every five years, Congress has the chance to pass a strong Farm Bill that invests in critical federal programs that help individuals and families keep food on the table. That includes SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which helps ease the strain and stress of hunger in North Texas communities.

Tell your elected officials that you support protecting and strengthening SNAP. Click here to send an email to legislators. It only takes a few minutes!


Advocate for Expanded Food Access

We need the community’s support in advocating for SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which helps ease the strain and stress of hunger in North Texas communities. This year, SNAP is eligible for renewed funding through the Farm Bill. Tell your elected officials that you support protecting and strengthening SNAP. Click below to send an email to legislators. It only takes a few minutes!