When he first heard the news about a mysterious, new virus slowly creeping its way across Asia, Jesse wasn’t particularly worried. As a single father of two, Jesse kept busy working overtime to provide for his family, and some distant, nebulous threat seemed so far removed from his little refuge in Southeast Dallas.
That was until Jesse received a phone call that he will never forget. He was scrambling to figure out childcare for spring break when his phone buzzed. He picked up, anxious and distracted; school breaks were always a stressful time for Jesse who relied on the school system to provide childcare and free breakfast and lunch for his children. Usually, Jesse knew he could count on Jubilee’s free summer and spring break programs to fill the gap, but this year’s camp had been canceled out of an abundance of caution. From the other end of the line, he heard a robotized voice: DISD was closing all schools indefinitely. Effective immediately. He stood still, phone to his ear, frozen in fear. Jesse always found a way to make ends meet in the most difficult circumstances, but this time he didn’t know if there was a solution. His worst nightmare was becoming reality, and he was powerless to stop it. For the first time, he had no idea how he was going to keep food on the table.
When the Jubilee Team heard Jesse’s story and other stories like it, we knew we had to act… and fast. In the first few weeks of the pandemic, Jubilee turned on a dime. We cleared out The Old Church, a multipurpose space used for activities like bingo and yoga, and put out a call for food. Within days, Saint Michael and other partners had completely filled the church with loaves of bread, cans of food, and hygiene items. In those early days, the need was endless—in June and July of 2020, Jubilee served 2,000 meals and bags of groceries per week. As soon as food came in, it would go out, and for two years this is how the “pantry” operated: on individual generosity, resourcefulness, and the hope that soon we would arrive at the other side of this crisis.
Food Insecurity: A Persistent Crisis
When you do not know where your next meal is coming from or how you will put food on your family’s table, there is little room to hope for a brighter future. If 2020 taught us anything, it is that to create community change and revitalization, our foundation must first be unshakeable.
The Jubilee Park Food Pantry was an emergency response to an emergency situation, but our neighbors face personal crises every day. One in five Jubilee families makes an annual household income of less than $15,000 a year; that means when one of our neighbors faces a personal emergency, like job loss, illness, or a death in the family, they lack the buffer they need to survive.
Even in the best of times, our families live in both a federally designated “food desert” and a “food swamp.” While it is difficult to access healthy, fresh foods, corner stores that offer junk and processed food abound. Because of this disparity, neighbors in Jubilee Park are more than twice as likely to suffer from chronic illnesses, like diabetes, but lack access to the nutritious food they need to lead healthier lives.
A Beacon of Hope
Last year, Jubilee was presented with the unique opportunity to make the Jubilee Park Food Pantry a permanent fixture in its already- sprawling campus, which features senior housing, a three-acre park, a community center, a teen center, two Head Start facilities, and a new health clinic. The project, undertaken by the Dallas Regional Chamber’s 2022 Leadership Dallas cohort, would mean that every neighbor could have permanent access to healthy, fresh food completely free of cost.
When Jubilee approached the North Texas Food Bank (NTFB) to create a partnership to supply Jubilee’s new food pantry, NTFB was ecstatic. While the broader Southeast Dallas area was a known food desert, NTFB explained, Jubilee Park is a “dead zone” in food bank access, meaning that other food banks are either too far to be accessible or do not serve the Jubilee Park neighborhood.
Armed with a renewed sense of urgency, over the next few months The Old Church was completely transformed. Refrigeration and freezer space were installed where the baptismal font once stood, grocery-style shelving replaced plastic tables, and the entire space was retrofitted to increase storage capacity. Of equal importance was ensuring that Jubilee neighbors not only had access to food but could also enjoy a dignified shopping experience equal to their neighbors north of I-30.
A Church Transformed into a Lifeline
After two years of regular food distributions, when we, at last, opened the Jubilee Park Food Pantry in early 2023 and welcomed our first shoppers, we felt ready—but nothing could have prepared us for the response. Within four months, the Jubilee Pantry has exceeded its goal for the entire year by an astounding 1.5x the amount of output. The Herculean effort is largely supported by a team of volunteers, many from Saint Michael, who stock the shelves, greet shoppers with cheerful smiles, guide neighbors through the shopping experience, and bag groceries.
Unlike a traditional food pantry, the Jubilee Park Food Pantry operates as a true “grocery store” where neighbors can “shop” the shelves and select the foods their families love to eat. A far cry from the usual canned food fare, Jubilee’s pantry stocks fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, baking mixes, household and hygiene items, baby supplies, pet food and so much more. Most importantly, the Jubilee Park Food Pantry not only helps feed our families, but during their most difficult hours also restores hope, choice, and dignity.
Fuel Our Families by Supporting the Jubilee Park Food Pantry
The Jubilee Park Food Pantry runs on support from faithful volunteers. Volunteer projects might include stocking shelves, organizing the pantry, greeting shoppers, helping neighbors shop, or bagging groceries.
Jubilee is seeking donations of non-food hygiene items (i.e. toilet paper, shampoo, conditioner, and body soap, etc.) Donations may be dropped off at Jubilee Park Monday–Friday, 9 a.m.–6 p.m., except on major holidays.
**This article was written by Libby Hayhurst and was featured in the 2023 Fall Archangel.