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Local nonprofits join together in effort to bring more fresh produce to areas of food insecurity

This story, originally published in The Dallas Morning News, is reprinted as part of a collaborative partnership between The Dallas Morning News and Texas Metro News. The partnership seeks to boost coverage of Dallas’ communities of color, particularly in southern Dallas.

New 40-foot cold storage unit opened at a skate park on MLK Day is just the beginning of what’s planned by The 4DWN Project and the Oak Cliff Veggie Project.

Hilary Miles at Oak Cliff Veggie Project
Finley Miles, 8, left, and her mother Hilary Miles, stock shelves with fruits and veggies inside the new cold storage facility for The Oak Cliff Veggie Project and the 4DWN Project during a soft opening for the storage tank at the 4DWN Skatepark in Dallas, on Monday.(Ben Torres / Special Contributor)

By Sriya Reddy

Filled with pineapples, red peppers, and leafy greens, a new 40-foot cold storage unit will quadruple the amount of food community organizations can distribute in southern Dallas, local nonprofits say.

The storage unit is part of a partnership between the Oak Cliff Veggie Project, a food resource organization fighting food insecurity, and The 4DWN Project, a nonprofit organization rooted in skateboarding. The storage unit is located at the 4DWN skatepark on Ferris Street. The two organizations kicked off a month-long food drive at the cold storage unit on Monday.

They say the unit, which was two years in the making, is just the beginning of the transformation at 4DWN. In the next couple years, The 4DWN Project and the Oak Cliff Veggie Project, will build a new distribution center complete with a community garden, vertical hydroponic farm, and educational facility all right alongside the skateboard park.

Skateboarders Riley Lamb
Skateboarders Riley Lamb, 10, left, Minton Lamm, 11, center, and Carli Kessler, 7, right, gather with their boards outside of the new cold storage facility for The Oak Cliff Veggie Project and the 4DWN Project during a soft opening for the storage tank at the 4DWN Skatepark in Dallas, on Monday. (Ben Torres / Special Contributor)

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the two organizations officially opened the storage facility as community members and skate park regulars donated bags of produce to begin filling the unit.

To have this opening on MLK Day meant a lot to the organizers.

“We are here in his spirit and his energy,” said Ples Montgomery IV, co-founder of Oak Cliff Veggie Project. “He was a great orator, but he is a man of action.”

Ples is a co-founder of OCVP alongside his mother, Bettie Montgomery, whom Ples credits as the real founder. Bettie started the organization in 2015 when she said she was called to give people food. As a former nurse, she understood the impact food insecurity had on her community’s health.

“Incidents of chronic illnesses in our community are huge,” Bettie said. “It is huge. It is literally killing us.”

According to the most recent Parkland Hospital’s Community Health Needs Assessment done in 2019, southern Dallas has high rates of hypertension and diabetes. These illnesses, among other factors, play a part in the life expectancy of this area. A resident of the Tenth Street Historic District, an Oak Cliff neighborhood, can expect to live to 64.2 years on average, the shortest life expectancy in the Dallas area.

Volunteers
Volunteers and skateboarders congregate outside of the new cold storage facility for The Oak Cliff Veggie Project and the 4DWN Project during a soft opening for the storage tank at the 4DWN Skatepark in Dallas, on Monday. (Ben Torres / Special Contributor)

Bettie said by providing fresh produce and educating people about food, they can keep people out of the hospital. For OCVP, creating connections with other organizations maximizes the impact it can have.

“Food is not a competition,” Bettie said. “It is a necessity.”

What started several years ago as a free produce sign at her local church that fed 30 to 40 people monthly has grown to feed over 1,200 people every Saturday morning.

4DWN Project and OCVP created a partnership a few years ago to expand the resources given to their community. 4DWN Project is rooted in four things: skateboarding, music, art and food. Throughout the pandemic, 4DWN and The Harvest Project have been distributing produce every Wednesday at the skatepark

“Everything we do as skateboarders we naturally want to create progression on,” 4DWN co-founder Rob Cahill said. “That’s how we ended up down the path of food and finding our way to OCVP, and The Harvest Project, and other partners.”

Cahill said that skateboarders are rebellious and sometimes that takes the form of being kind to and empowering people who are left out of mainstream society. These values are what ties 4DWN, OCVP, and their partners together.

“We all are working together because we all have an empowerment mindset in our programs,” Ples said. “We don’t want to be known as a charity organization. We want to be known as empowering organizations that allow change.”

To donate to Oak Cliff Veggie Project, go to their website oakcliffveggieproject.org.

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