By Sriya Reddy
Faith-based nonprofit BridgeBuilders has announced its new grocery-store-style food pantry in partnership with Brother Bill’s Helping Hands and the North Texas Food Bank in an area of South Dallas where food options are scarce.
The pantry, which opens around Thanksgiving, will serve about 350 families in the community and will have a wide variety of offerings, including frozen food, fresh produce, and protein options.
“And we really believe this opportunity will provide dignity to residents because it will feel like a grocery store — there’ll be fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, meats, and all of the dairy products that you need,” Jonathan Fechner, executive director of BridgeBuilders, said. “You get to get what you want for your family and have the grocery store experience that we believe every person should have if they want that.”
The pantry is one of the latest additions to the building, located at 5210 Bexar Street, that had long sat largely empty but is now being renovated by BridgeBuilders.
After acquiring the property last year from the city, the group surveyed residents in Bonton and the number one request for the building was a grocery store.
The building will also have six units of transitional housing for young people experiencing homelessness and a barber shop run by Bonton residents. So far, BridgeBuilders put about $300,000 into making the property code compliant.
BridgeBuilders’ acquisition caused tension in Ideal, the South Dallas neighborhood where Bexar Street is located, because many residents were not aware of the transfer and felt distrustful of BridgeBuilders.
Sherri Mixon, executive director of T.R. Hoover CDC, a community center next door, said that she and her neighbors were upset about a building in their community being given to an outside organization.
“We all had some really strong feelings about it,” Mixon said. “So when my councilman told us he was making that decision, we agreed to disagree.”
BridgeBuilders has said that the doors are open to partner with local groups, but Mixon said she has not felt welcome.
T.R. Hoover has been providing food through a drive-thru for three years, and Mixon said that addressing food insecurity could have been an opportunity to partner on. However, she didn’t learn about the pantry until recently.
“We’ve all been providing food here, because no one else was providing food to the community,” Mixon said. “I would have hoped that the communication beforehand would have been to say, ‘How can we collaborate?’ I’m still saying there’s still time to do that, but I wish it was while they were planning.”
Mixon said she’s been working in Ideal for 50 years and that she supports any resource that would benefit her community.
South Dallas native Von Minor, vice president of development and strategic initiatives for BridgeBuilders, said that in the past year the group has reached out more to the Ideal community. One way they do this is through their partnership with Body of Christ Assembly, a church off Bexar Street that has been led by Pastor Fredrick Eddington for 32 years.
“We knew that we needed that place of entry and gateway into the community of Ideal with an entity that has been serving this community for as long as Pastor Eddington has been,” Minor said.
Minor said that BridgeBuilders has started reaching out to Ideal residents for a survey and hopes to build a stronger relationship with them in the future.
“Our hope is that once we get the food pantry we’d be able to connect with the neighborhood association to be able to further serve with greater efficiency and connect with the neighborhood association,” Minor said.
Eddington said that while he knows that other community members were suspicious about the nonprofit, to him, BridgeBuilders has the resources to make the services coming out of the building successful for the community. The two organizations have been working together to provide resources to South Dallas, such as employment opportunities.
“Well, personally, the position that I take is that the building utilized what it was initially built, and that was trying to empower the community and to bring economic development to the community,” Eddington said. “I believe that BridgeBuilders is seemingly heading toward that direction and that vision.”