When UNT Dallas students learned that Dallas County was 20.6 percent food insecure—and that some grocery stores in the area didn’t offer fresh fruits and vegetables—they decided they had to do something about it.
In collaboration with Toyota and DART, UNT Dallas is going to be bringing a mobile food market right to the doors of residents throughout Southern Dallas. The mobility initiative involves converting a low-grade emission bus, provided by DART, into a meals-on-wheels concept.
“By bringing fresh, locally sourced produce directly into neighborhoods in southern Dallas, we can also spur business growth, support local gardens and uplift the community.”
A $268,000 grant from Toyota will support the retrofit of the bus, scholarships for students, and the selling of locally sourced produce from community gardens. But, the program doesn’t stop at produces sales—it also aims to provide opportunities such as health living education and professional development workshops.
“By bringing fresh, locally sourced produce directly into neighborhoods in Southern Dallas, we can also spur business growth, support local gardens and uplift the community,” Al Smith, group vice president, Toyota Social Innovation, said in a release.
UNT Dallas Urban SERCH Institute and UNT Dallas School of Business students will have the opportunity to gain hands-on learning experiences by collaborating with local farms to develop and launch the initiative. Students will participate in all aspects of the process, doing everything from conducting community assessments to planning delivery routes.
Students in Cedar Valley Community College’s Automotive Program will also participate by assisting in renovations and maintenance of the bus.
“At UNT Dallas, our mission is to make a college education attainable regardless of economic background, and that starts by ensuring that our future students’ pathway to success begins with access to healthy, fresh foods,” UNT Dallas President Bob Mong said in a release.
According to the release, Kelly Varga, a UNT Dallas biology professor, caught the attention of Toyota for her work in a Southern Dallas neighborhood. Toyota was seeking to advance its own mobility strategy, and said projects like this can inspire new solutions.
“If we can help connect the community to fresh produce and healthy food, we can help fuel a young person’s development, learning, and progress toward adult success,” Varga said.
The national average for food insecurity in children in the U.S. is 22.4 percent—but Dallas County’s is 26.6 percent. With the launch of the bus in spring 2019, UNT Dallas, Toyota, and DART are hoping to change that.
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