Anga Sanders walked into Albertson’s in Uptown to buy groceries after work as usual, but on this day, she was stricken.
“I don’t know if you remember that Albertson’s, but they had this fresh make-your-own-salad bar right where you walk in. It was beautiful. It had everything you could think of,” she says. “I just froze, and I realized there’s nothing like that south of Interstate 30. So I took a picture.” Ninety-nine Facebook comments and one hour later, the idea for Feed Oak Cliff started to brew.
She held a community meeting at her house in Kiest Forest Estates, and about 30 people showed up. They were young, old, black, white, Hispanic, a mix of demographics, but all of them were her neighbors, and all of them were fed up with their lack of nearby access to fresh food.
If living in a so-called food desert is that great a concern for homeowners and professionals with the means to commute to Dallas every day, imagine what it’s like for a single parent who doesn’t have a car.
Hot Pockets it is, when that’s what’s across the street.
Feed Oak Cliff organized the fourth-annual Dallas VegFest at Kiest Park, which has grown every year, this past fall. The nonprofit’s goal is to recruit a major full-service grocery store to Oak Cliff’s food desert.
Sanders dives deep researching the demographics of her neighborhood. She is certain there is enough earning power here, regardless of the typical corporate answer, so she persistently asks what the rest of Oak Cliff wants to know: “Why can’t you put grocery stores here?”
Why can’t a major grocer put a store here?
If they respond at all, they give us the typical answer that there aren’t enough rooftops. Rooftops means buying power, income. They believe it is a high-crime, high-thug, low-income neighborhood. And that’s not where I live. It’s their erroneous perceptions about Oak Cliff. The biggest problem Oak Cliff has is public relations.
Isn’t that the idea behind Dallas VegFest?
Dallas VegFest is about healthy nutrition, but it also has a secondary goal of putting different eyes on this area, to let people know that we eat more than fried chicken over here.
When was the first one?
September 2015. I thought, “Lord, just let me have 30 people so I won’t be embarrassed.” We had 300, and it doubled every year. We had over 1,500 last year, and we had vendors from Houston and Austin. We had a food truck that came from Missouri, so the word is out. We had to turn away vendors this year because we didn’t have enough room. There’s a waiting list for next year.
What else are you working on?
We’re still considering building our own nonprofit grocery store.
Are there models for something like that?
Not many, but yes. There’s one in Waco. There are a few scattered around the country. We’re looking at a space and putting all the logistical pieces in place: Location, funding, sources of supply, distributorship. There’s a lot of pieces that go into that.
What is it that pure by-the-numbers spreadsheet guys aren’t seeing about this market?
There are 17 Tom Thumb stores in Dallas. There’s one south of Interstate 30. Nobody can explain to me why that is. There’s a Tom Thumb at Greenville and Lover’s Lane, right across the street from Central Market. Less than 2 miles away, there’s a Tom Thumb across from NorthPark. I understand that the profit margins are small. But even poor people eat. And we’re not even poor. It takes vision. Grocery stores typically will select a locus point. Then they draw a 1-mile circle around that and look at what’s in that circle. Well that’s very shortsighted because if you’re the only game in town, you’re going to draw from way outside that circle.
For example, that you were buying all of your groceries on Lemmon Avenue.
Exactly. The corporations need to understand that the first person to put a grocery store over here is going to get rich because we’re a solidly middle class neighborhood. We have high traffic counts. Ledbetter and Hampton, for instance, is one of the busiest intersections in Dallas. So is Kiest and Illinois. There’s a lot of traffic there. We have the money to spend on groceries, and we do. It’s a Catch-22 because they say, “As grocery store developers, we look at the dollars spent in the community on food.” But if there’s nothing you want to buy there, you go to another community. It’s not that we’re not buying it. We’re just buying it other places because it’s not there.
Your commitment to this cause is impressive.
I’m a big Elvis fan, and Elvis said, “This time you gave me a mountain, a mountain I may never climb.” I’m not going to accept that. Either I’m going to die on the side of the mountain, or I’m going to be waving from the top. Because I’m not coming down. I’m not coming down until this is done or I’m dead.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.