Faith Commons

by Rabbi Nancy Kasten

In January of 2023 Faith Commons invited a group of people to a meeting to discuss how to reduce food insecurity in Dallas. To be honest, we were frustrated. Feeding the hungry is one of our foundational responsibilities as people of faith, but the way we have been doing it has not reduced food insecurity, nor has it decreased food waste. How might we do better?

The invitation went out to the usual suspects, such as the North Texas Food Bank and VNA/Meals on Wheels, but we also invited people who work in the city and the county. We invited funders and policy experts. We invited educators and elected officials. And we invited people who are growing community as they grow food security. We were particularly interested in listening to those working in community-driven, neighborhood-based organizations to learn more about their resilient, sustainable, and accessible responses to hunger. Dallas has many such organizations, each of them producing, collecting, and/or distributing food as well as a range of other resources. 

Last week’s meeting, our ninth, was held at 4DWN, an urban skate park where food is rescued, produced, served, redistributed, and sold. Representatives from BridgeBuilders, For Oak Cliff, Paul Quinn College, and West Dallas Multipurpose Center attended. Staff from the North Texas Food Bank, Child Poverty Action Lab (CPAL), and Dallas County Department of Health and Human Services came to the meeting. Two experienced nonprofit strategists joined the group for the first time. 

Our format is informal. Each person at the table shares the strengths and challenges of their organization’s operations. When a need is expressed, more times than not, someone at the table has an idea for how to meet it.

  • When 4DWN and BridgeBuilders shared their frustration about being in a tech desert in South Dallas, Paul Quinn and West Dallas Multipurpose Center knew where they could get tablets donated with a year of free data.
  • BridgeBuilders described their collaboration with Kroger and Bonton Farm to bring Grocery Connect, an online shopping service designed for traditionally underserved neighborhoods, into South Dallas. Paul Quinn asked for a contact so they can become a distribution center.
  • For those who are building a “food as medicine” element into their programs, North Texas Food Bank shared information about their Nudge program, designed to encourage healthy choices about food, physical activity, and other aspects of wellness.
  • We learned that Dallas County HHS has mini-grants that are available for community gardens in zip codes where food insecurity is highest.
  • West Dallas Multipurpose Center shared the need for a therapeutic horticulturist to work with veterans, and the North Texas Food Bank has a former employee who might fit the bill. 
  • CPAL shared that over well over a billion dollars’ worth of federal benefits go unused in Dallas County right now. CPAL works with community organizations to increase access to those benefits for food and rent. They can bring their services to any of these organizations. One of the nonprofit strategists at the table pointed out that Texas lost $26 billion in federal benefits due to a flawed census count. She is developing strategies to help Texas get a better count next time around. 

The give and take that takes place at these meetings is our goal. We have no other agenda, or desired outcome. Yet no one wanted the meeting to end. Several participants offered to host the next meeting. The next morning, we received this note in our inbox:

“What a straight-up blessing that gathering was yesterday. I don’t even have words. I do want to say thank you, though, regardless how inadequate the words. I am really looking forward to listening and learning how I might contribute. “

Food rescue is the practice of gleaning edible food that would otherwise go to waste and redistributing it to those who will use it. At Faith Commons, we also work on faith rescue—gleaning the faith that motivates people to do good in the world and redistributing it to those suffering from disillusionment and despair. Our experience reinforces our conviction that hospitality disinfects fear, and collaboration reveals abundance. We hope this strategy will reduce food and other less visible forms of insecurity, through strengthening our trust and faith in one another. 

Learn more about some of these organizations here:

Good God Podcast | Season 11 Episode 1: Joey Darwin: A grocery store in South Dallas that nourishes body and spirit while nurturing autonomy and dignity

Good God Podcast | Season 11 Episode 2: A different kind of Sunday Service: 4DWN’s food rescue and recovery

Good God Podcast | Season 11 Episode 3: City of Dallas: Sustainable Hunger Solutions through Food Distribution and Education

Good God Podcast | Season 11 Episode 4: Restorative Farms: Community Supported Agriculture in South Dallas