Mission Waco has raised $185,000 in its quest to convert a long-vacant Safeway building in North Waco into the Jubilee Food Market, where residents living in a food desert can find merchandise at reasonable prices.
“The phones have lit up,” said Jimmy Dorrell, executive director of the nonprofit headquartered at North 15th Street and Colcord Avenue, right across the street from the old Safeway building.
Mission Waco is trying to raise $488,000 for the building’s transformation into a community asset.
Dorrell went public with plans earlier this month to sell “Oasis shares” in the venture. For every $25 contributed to the cause, donors receive a certificate of stock and the appreciation of a neighborhood dominated by high-priced convenience stores.
Since then, Dorrell said, “donors from all over Waco and as far away as Maine” have called or sent emails to make donations.
“Almost daily, there have been online gifts and mailed checks from compassionate folks who are learning about a national phenomenon that recognizes mega-grocery stores are moving to the edges of cities and abandoning urban neighborhoods,” Dorrell said.
Mission Waco now has pledges totaling about 38 percent of the estimated cost of proceeding with remodeling the 6,500-square-foot building, acquiring start-up supplies and creating a hydroponic greenhouse for raising fresh produce on the site of a vacant house at 1509 N. 15th Street that volunteers are demolishing.
Work will progress in phases as the money is raised, and the store opening before year’s end is not out of the question, Dorrell said.
Grant falls through
But countering the good news was a decision by the city of Waco staff not to recommend the Jubilee Food Market for a $150,000 federal Community Development Block Grant administered by the Waco City Council.
The staff had invited Mission Waco to apply for the funds, which are targeted to low-income areas, but later decided the project might prove risky and would reflect poorly on the city and its decision-making process if the store fails to materialize.
Dorrell has said he may pursue other grants, with funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture a possibility.
Volunteers and church groups already have begun removing walls, old ceiling tiles and bathroom fixtures in the decades-old building in preparation for extensive remodeling that could begin as early as May, Dorrell said. Mission Waco has received commitments of voluntary labor from carpenters, painters, masons and installers of mechanical and heating and air-conditioning systems, he said. The undertaking still needs the help of plumbers, electricians and flooring technicians.
Anyone interested in lending their expertise and handiwork free of charge or at reduced rates is asked to contact Mission Waco.
Waco’s Christian Mission Concerns has pledged to provide more than 10 percent of the needed funds, $25,000 this year and the same 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 in the store, which could open by fall, depending on the progress of fundraising.
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 in 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.
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., namesake for Baylor University’s new football stadium.
The company plans to do business with Mission Waco, McLane Global Chairman Mike Julian said.
“We are a global trading company, and we have products Jimmy will eventually stock in his store,” Julian said. “If what he needs is something we provide, we have agreed to do business. 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.”
Mission Waco operates the World Cup Café and Fair Trade Market, Jubilee Theatre and the Urban Edibles food trailer. It bought the old Safeway building and surveyed area residents about what it should become, with the overwhelming majority saying they would like to have a grocery store.