Jimmy Dorrell

Mission Waco wants the public to have a hand in converting a vacant building near its complex in North Waco into the Jubilee Food Market, where residents of an area considered a grocery desert could buy fresh produce, meats and canned goods at discounted prices.

For every $25 contributed to the cause, donors will receive a certificate of “stock” called an Oasis share, which is short for Opportunity Advancing Social Innovation Stock.

Mission Waco executive director Jimmy Dorrell is using this approach to help raise $488,000 to remodel and buy startup supplies for the store at North 15th Street and Colcord Avenue and to create a hydroponic greenhouse next door. Volunteers are tearing down a dilapidated house to make room for the greenhouse.

The organization, which operates the World Cup Cafe and Fair Trade Market, Jubilee Theatre and the Urban Edibles food trailer, bought the 6,500-square-foot building and surveyed area residents about what it should become.

They overwhelmingly voted to have Mission Waco place a grocery in their midst, a place where they could buy healthy foods without having to travel 2.2 miles to the nearest grocery, the H-E-B at Park Lake Drive and North 19th Street, or pay inflated prices at convenience stores.

Dorrell said he has grant requests pending with the city of Waco for about $150,000 in federal Community Development Block Grant money and with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. But he wanted to get the ball rolling with another approach to replace or supplement grant money he may or may not receive.

That’s why he came up with the idea of issuing stock to those wanting to change the lives of those living in a low-income neighborhood without a grocery nearby.

“Our North Waco neighbors suffer from high levels of obesity, cholesterol and heart disease, largely due to having low access to fresh foods,” Dorrell said in a newsletter soliciting participation in the stock sale. “These grocery deserts are bad for our health, our budgets and our community.”

Waco’s Christian Mission Concerns has pledged to provide 10 percent of the needed funds, $25,000 this year and a matching amount next year.

Those purchasing stock will receive quarterly reports on the status of the project and are welcome to take part in annual “shareholders” meetings, Dorrell said. They also will receive a free Oasis Club card that entitles them to special discounts within the store, which could open by fall, depending on the progress of fundraising, he said.

Investors buying a minimum of 50 shares valued at $1,250 will have their names placed on the Founder’s Board located in a prominent place inside the Jubilee Food Market.

Mission Waco has established four levels of giving that include Bronze, $2,250; Silver, $5,000; Gold, $10,000; and Platinum, $15,000.

Residents who live within the 76707 ZIP code near the Mission Waco complex will receive something comparable to a Sam’s Club card they may use to save money on purchases.

That zone falls within a mile radius of the store and stretches between North 25th Street, Lake Brazos, Herring Avenue and Waco Drive.

“We want the neighborhood people to have the best deal, but we want our merchandise to be of such quality that the whole town will shop at our grocery,” Dorrell said.

Dorrell said if everything falls into place as planned, the store should open in six to seven months to sell groceries and a few toiletries.

“But if we don’t get grants from the city or any other funding sources, we will have to poke along and make progress as we get a little money here or there,” he said. “I’ve told people that if anyone donates $1 million, we’ll name the place after them and put a statue of the donor out front.”

Dorrell said he and the staff of Mission Waco already are receiving inquiries from would-be donors wanting to participate in the stock offer.

Meanwhile, Dorrell said he has made inquiries about acquiring grocery products from Houston-based McLane Global, an international food service company owned by Temple businessman and billionaire Drayton McLane Jr., after whom Baylor University’s new football stadium is named.

“We are a global trading company, and we have products Jimmy will eventually stock in his store. If what he needs is something we provide, we have agreed to do business,” said Mike Julian, CEO of McLane Global, speaking by phone. “We provide a number of what’s called center-of-store grocery items, including canned products and packaged products. We don’t provide meat or produce, but we do carry goods from all over the United States and all over the world.”

Julian said he has visited the potential grocery site, meeting with Dorrell and scouting the neighborhood.

“The location is in desperate need of a food store, and Jimmy’s put together a number of resources to help him figure out a meaningful way to provide a retail food experience,” said Julian, adding that the company now owned by McLane was founded in 1958 in San Francisco.

A company affiliated with McLane Global called Good News Food is negotiating to enter the Waco market as early as April, Julian said.

“It is a separate program run for people needing to stretch their food dollars, especially seniors,” he said, adding that prospective customers can visit goodnewsfood.net and choose items to be included in a box of groceries the company would deliver to five designated drop-off points on one Saturday a month.

He said the program is open to anyone, regardless of income, and payment methods range from credit cards to food stamps.

“About 35 area pastors who want to get involved in the ‘box’ program met with Mike Julian on his visit to Waco,” Dorrell said, adding he likely will make the Mission Waco area at North 15th Street and Colcord Avenue one of the locations where customers can pick up their orders.

To get all the information he can about creating a greenhouse to provide perishables for the store, Dorrell has secured the assistance of Scott Truex, an associate professor of urban planning at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, and co-director of the school’s Sustainable Communities Institute.

Meanwhile, Mark Newton, a facility engineer for The Kroger Co. in Dallas, and Nick Benavidez, who retired from the Kroger grocery chain after a career in operations and merchandising, are working with Dorrell on laying out the grocery and choosing products it should offer.

Anyone interested in buying shares in the grocery should contact Dorrell at JDorrell@missionwaco.org.

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