By Julie Fancher
Volunteers were up bright and early to plant fruit trees in five Dallas neighborhoods Saturday as part of Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson’s fight against hunger. Johnson (D-TX), an estimated 30-40 volunteers, and officials with TXU Energy, the Texas Trees Foundation, and the community were on hand to supervise the planting of 25 trees.
The trees were donated by TXU Energy and included fig, apple, peach and pear. Once the trees start bearing fruit, neighbors will be free to pick them for healthy snacks. Trees were planted at the West Dallas Community Church on Canada Drive; the True Lee Missionary Baptist Church on Bertrand Avenue; the T.R. Hoover Community Center on Bexar Street; the Jubilee Community Center on Bank Street; and the Promise of Peace Garden on E. Grand Ave.
“The locations were picked because we identified them as food deserts, or areas where there is limited access to healthy foods and grocery stores” said Matt Grubisich, an urban forester with the Texas Trees Foundation.
Volunteers, including children from the We Care Youth Center in DeSoto, began planting at the locations about 8:30 in the morning, with the last trees planted shortly before noon. Johnson held what she billed as a “Fruit of Hope Tree Planting Ceremony” at the Promise of Peace Garden site.
“This issue is not a lack of food, the supply is available, but rather a lack of education,” said Johnson about her campaign to end hunger. “We are trying to eliminate the stigmas or the language barriers so that young children feel comfortable asking for help.”
Dallas is one of the ten worst cities nationwide for child hunger, and 4.2 million Texans either experience hunger outright or do not have access to food aid programs, according to Johnson.
Saturday’s plantings were in association with the Texas Hunger Initiative, the Texas No Kid Hungry campaign, and the newly formed Dallas-Area Food Planning Association, all of which hope to bring attention to local and national child hunger.
The idea to plant fruit trees started with Johnson and her office staff, said her aides, who then reached out to the Texas Trees Foundation for help. The Foundation reached out to TXU Energy, which agreed to donate the trees. The event was also sponsored by Johnson’s EBJ Youth Council.
“The Congresswoman organized and coordinated the event. She wants hunger gone from the district, so hopefully this will be the starting point,” said Fatima Ali, Constituent Services Liaison for Congresswoman Johnson’s Dallas office.
Denise Gomez from the Texas Hunger Initiative described the tree planting ceremony as a collaborative effort of volunteers, local leaders, non-profit organizations and elected officials to take the issue from a local level to the national level.
Volunteer Patty Bates-Ballard brought her two children and step-grandson to help plant trees at the Promise of Peace Garden location.
“Local gardening is so important. Our food supply is our lifeline and if we have local, organic food that we produce ourselves, then we will be a healthier community,” said Bates-Ballard.
“Think of yourself as being hungry and between you being starving and a pear or a peach, it makes a difference,” said Johnson.
Julie Fancher is a junior at Southern Methodist University studying convergence journalism and political science