PRESS RELEASE – North Texas Healthy Communities (NTHC), a community outreach arm of Texas Health Resources, zoomed past a significant milestone this fall in its efforts to improve health and well-being beyond hospital walls. Since 2020, NTHC programs have contributed to the donation of more than 1.1 million pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables in high-need communities throughout Tarrant County, serving in excess of 157,000 county residents. That’s the equivalent of more than 25 semi-tractor trailers fully loaded with fresh produce. NTHC has also delivered nutrition education and other resources to individuals and families through a variety of innovative neighborhood-based programs.
According to county data, 22% of Tarrant County households and 36% of Dallas households have no vehicle and live more than a mile from a grocery store or supermarket. More than 800,000 people across Tarrant, Dallas, Denton, and Collin counties experience food insecurity, and more than 25% of children in North Texas are food insecure. While food insecurity is a significant issue, NTHC’s food distribution programs do more than fight immediate hunger. Research shows that access to healthy foods is a critical social determinant that can greatly affect long-term physical and mental health outcomes, especially in children. Those outcomes include diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, and heart disease.
Since its formation in 2019, NTHC (the team responsible for Blue Zones Project and other well-being initiatives) has closely examined food access and other health issues throughout the area, with a focus on specific ZIP codes identified in Texas Health Resources’ annual Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA).
“Where you live, the cultural forces and social norms around you, and the services available in your neighborhood play a huge role in good or poor health outcomes,” said Matt Dufrene, vice president of North Texas Healthy Communities. “Unfortunately, living in neighborhoods without sufficient access to healthy, affordable food is a barrier to a long, healthy life — and someone’s ZIP code should never negatively impact their well-being.”
Working with community partners at the neighborhood level, NTHC has launched a variety of targeted food access programs to make healthy foods more available and to support the community with additional resources. When the pandemic put a sharp point on those needs, NTHC increased efforts and modified its distribution methods as COVID-19 precautions required.
NTHC has now distributed more than 1.1 million pounds of free produce to residents, filling a gap of what’s typically available through other community partners. Individuals and families receive healthy foods at no cost through these NTHC programs:
- Good For You Pantry: NTHC’s Good For You Pantry program, which began in 2019, operates primarily out of schools and community centers, and supplies fresh produce and other healthy staples. Each pantry serves approximately 70 to 100 families who can select their groceries, much as if they were shopping in a traditional market. The pantries also provide recipe cards, cooking utensils, nutrition education workshops, and other resources. There are currently 18 Good For You Pantry locations in Tarrant County, with plans for continued expansion into other North Texas communities. NTHC has provided nearly 483,000 pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables through this program.
- Fresh Access: NTHC’s Fresh Access program supports 21 Fort Worth community centers by providing fresh fruits and vegetables to seniors and youth that attend activities and receive services. Produce is also available to residents in surrounding neighborhoods. The Fresh Access program, which kicked off in August 2021, introduces families to a wide variety of nutritious foods and offers nutrition education and cooking demonstrations to help them take advantage of those resources. NTHC has distributed almost 402,000 pounds of healthy produce through Fresh Access.
- Pandemic/emergency response and other needs: NTHC also delivered nearly 266,000 pounds of healthy produce during its COVID-19 emergency response efforts, at community events and for other urgent community needs.
NTHC conducted a study of its Good For You Pantry program, in which 70% of users said they had increased the amount of fresh fruits and vegetables they or their family consume; 75% said their family is trying new fruits and vegetables since accessing the program.
“Solving for food inequities is a community effort, and our work is focused at the neighborhood level — working with trusted resources like schools and community centers to make the greatest impact,” Dufrene said. “At the same time, we need to look at the big picture, so we’re working to create better, stronger food systems across the area. That means increasing the locally grown food supply and educating our community about the long-term benefits of healthy eating. We continue to form new partnerships and are strategically working to expand our reach to more of the Texas Health Resources service area.”
In addition to providing points of access in the community for free healthy foods, NTHC manages the implementation across North Texas of Double Up Food Bucks (DUFB) — which allows people who qualify for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to double their buying power for fresh produce at participating locations by matching or providing a 50% discount. There are currently 10 DUFB locations across Tarrant and Dallas counties, including three local grocery stores in Fort Worth and four new locations in southeast Dallas. NTHC continues to expand that program.
Other initiatives include finding funding and support for school gardens, farmers markets and urban farms. In addition, NTHC introduced the Culled Produce Recovery Program in 2022, a partnership with local urban farms and grocery stores that gives new life to unsold produce.
Learn more about Texas Health’s Fresh Produce and Healthy Food Resources Network.