On a humid afternoon in late May, residents of the Spanish Creek apartments near Bachman Lake line up patiently while volunteers from Equal Heart’s Mobile Food Access Network [MFAN] set up tables in front of two vans filled with crates of groceries, each of which will help feed a family for about two weeks.
Residents here and at other low-income apartment complexes across North Texas only need a form of ID to sign up to get the much-needed deliveries once a month. Mud from a morning shower doesn’t deter volunteers from wheeling dollies across cardboard boxes to take the heavy crates into the hungry homes.
“Even if it’s absolutely pouring, we still come out because it’s about them getting the food,” said Brianna Sanders, an AmeriCorps volunteer for Equal Heart. “If they’ll come out to get the food, then we’ll take it to them. It might be a lot of rain for us, but it might not be a lot of rain for them.”
Started last summer by Keven Vicknair, formerly of CitySquare, Equal Heart aims to feed families at their homes year-round with MFAN and feed kids in the summer with its Direct-to-Door meals program.
“Most social services are given and received at a neutral site, so no matter how much we bring a heart of service to that interaction, you’re still in this neutral, sterile environment,” Vicknair said. “If you have to go out of your community to get help, how do you know … that anyone cares about you?”
Equal Heart started with the summer program and officially launched MFAN in December, after receiving a GroundFloor Fellowship grant for $60,000 from the United Way of Metropolitan Dallas and $25,000 from Heart of Dallas Young Professional Fast Pitch event last fall.
“October to December was the most surreal,” said Jackie Anderson, the Equal Heart AmeriCorps program director.
Anderson explained there’s a lot of need for both food programs, especially in the summer. Not every kid who receives free lunches during the school year is able to participate in Dallas ISD’s summer program, hosted at many schools and parks, sometimes because they simply can’t get to one of the 75 designated sites at the designated times.
This summer, Equal Heart will feed more than 8,000 kids breakfast and lunch daily in Dallas — and Austin, Houston, and San Antonio — at 200 apartment complexes and help fill some gaps in the food map, according to Anderson.
To get funding for the summer meals from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Texas Department of Agriculture, Equal Heart must ensure volunteers witness and document meals being consumed, Anderson said.
Vicknair’s twin sister created an app to keep track of the required paperwork and make distribution easier.
In the weeks leading up to the vans’ deployment, volunteers made piñatas to help entertain kids during meals, keep them in a central area for congregant eating, and show them they care.
“The reason I came back [to work with Equal Heart] is mainly for the summer food,” said Sanders, who worked with Vicknair at CitySquare. “We play with the kids when we give them food. And you’ll be surprised. … The lunch is what we’re there for, but sometimes they don’t even care about the lunch, they just want that time.”
Equal Heart hopes to start making MFAN deliveries twice a month and expand the summer food program to more complexes, but they’ll need help, as their slogan puts it, bridging the last mile.
“To scale, we need to cover [the cost of] transportation and we absolutely need to find some more food sources,” Vicknair said. “We’ll go anywhere and everywhere to pick stuff up.”