Ribbon cutting ceremony for the Morningside Viking Market grand opening. Images courtesy of Elizabeth Lentz, RCF.

Fort Worth is the fifth largest city in the state and 16th largest city in the United States and is growing rapidly.  Approximately 280,000 Fort Worth residents live more than one mile from a full-service grocery store in what is known as a food desert. A recent study found 11 zip codes in Tarrant County are considered food deserts, and multiple zip codes in Fort Worth do not have a single grocery store.

Food deserts are defined as locations that lack ready access to healthy and affordable food, including fresh fruit and vegetables. In lieu of grocery stores, communities that sit in food deserts have multiple fast-food chains and convenience stores, which do not provide access to healthy and fresh food.  Consistently consuming a diet high in sugar and processed foods can lead to notable health issues, particularly affecting children’s well-being and learning abilities.

Given this problem, the Tarrant Area Food Bank and Fort Worth ISD (FWISD) have collaborated over the past several years to place food pantries into schools located in food deserts.  This effort has resulted in the launch and operations of 20 school-based pantries on FWISD campuses.  Concurrently, the Tarrant Area Food Bank has established 52 pantries with schools that serve Fort Worth students outside of FWISD, bringing the total number of school-based pantries to 72.  Julie Butner, CEO of the Tarrant Area Food Bank has routinely stated, “Our goal is to have 100 pantries by the end of the year and we will continue as long as there is a need.”  In 2023, The Rainwater Charitable Foundation joined this effort to bring school-based pantries, known as school markets, to two additional campuses that sit in food desert zip codes: Morningside Middle School and J. Martin Jacquet Middle School, with two additional markets planned to launch by fall 2024.

Morningside Middle School sits in postal code 76104, which has been identified by Texas Health Resources as priority zip code for healthcare services and access to healthy food, given the out-sized incidents of chronic diseases. The 76104 zip has one of the lowest life expectancy rates in the state.  On February 6, 2024, the Morningside Middle School Viking Market opened to serve families and communities members in the Morningside neighborhood, where 92% of students qualify for free and reduced lunch.  The Viking Market will provide food for 75 – 100 families and is open every other Tuesday from 8a – 10:30a as well as 4-6p.  The Viking Market offers meat, vegetables, dried and frozen goods as well as household and toiletry items and clothes. Volunteers from both Morningside Middle School staff as well as Morningside community collaborate to operate the Viking Market.

J. Martin Jacquet Middle School is located in the Stop Six neighborhood, which has the highest level of food insecurity in Tarrant County.  On March 5, 2024, the Village Market at J. Martin Jacquet Middle School launched to serve 50-75 families, with plans to expand as community usage increases. Similar to the Viking Market, the Village Market offers fresh fruits and vegetables, meat, and frozen goods as well as clothes, books, school supplies, and other academic enrichment materials.  Jacquet Middle School will be partnering with local non-profits and agencies to provide services for families.

School-based pantries are a key strategy of the Tarrant Area Food Bank’s Ready-to-Learn, an initiative that seeks to positively impact educational outcomes through access to fresh, high-quality food, focused programming, and the expansion of school-based pantries.  In addition to increasing the number of school-based pantries, The Tarrant Area Food Bank is seeking to open a Ready-To-Learn Center that will include a market as well as programming for families focused on food and nutrition education and cooking classes.

Local news coverage of the Jacquet Middle School Village Market grand opening can be found here.

To learn more about RCF’s partnerships with Tarrant County organizations to promote flourishing of families and children through quality education, upskilling, affordable housing, and childcare, please visit our website.