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Dallas church perseveres, innovates in food ministries amid growing need

Among several initiatives to fight hunger in the community it serves, Cornerstone Baptist Church in Dallas operates a discount food market with healthy produce.

DALLAS (BP) — Cornerstone Baptist Church takes a multifaceted approach to fighting hunger in the food-desert community it serves, persevering amid rising inflation and greater need.

A cloud kitchen for culinary entrepreneurs and healthy cooking classes are additions this year to established outreaches including an award-winning discount fresh foods market, entrepreneurial development, small business loans, free hot meals and food distributions.

This Thanksgiving, aided by community partners, Cornerstone distributed 350 food baskets with turkeys or hams and side dishes for recipients to cook at home, giving recipients the option of gift cards for hams or turkeys.

Attendance has increased at the community meals Cornerstone Baptist Church serves several days a week.

Thanksgiving Day, the church will serve 1,500 prepared hot meals to community members including the homeless, indigent, homebound and seniors.

Despite the church’s decades-long service to South Dallas through ministries and the Cornerstone Community Development Corporation, Senior Pastor Chris Simmons sees continuing need. Some South Dallas neighborhoods suffer poverty rates as high as 40 percent, Dallasites101 reported.

“What we have found is the record inflation, that is coupled now with the reduction in EBT/SNAP benefits (electronic benefits transfer/ Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program),” he said, “has created a perfect storm for people being in need in this neighborhood.”

Among the church’s outreaches fighting hunger is the Southpoint Community Market, where residents can buy fresh fruits, vegetables and other healthy choices at discounted prices. Without the store, residents would have to take a $5 bus ride to buy groceries.

The store’s sales have increased by 60 percent in the past year, Simmons said.

“Last year from January to October, we did about $150,000 in sales,” Simmons said. “This year, the same time period from January to October, we got $250,000. It’s going very, very well.”

In partnership with the American Heart Association, Cornerstone has increased the market’s impact through the Double-Up Program. Families buying groceries with EBT or SNAP benefits receive a 50 percent discount on healthy items including fresh fruits and vegetables and low-sodium canned goods.

“It provides an opportunity for the families to eat (healthier) in the neighborhood,” Simmons said. “We discovered that many of our people in the neighborhood did not eat healthy because it’s so expensive. If you’re a grandmother with multiple sets of grandchildren, it’s easier to give them Ramen noodles than it is an apple. It’s much cheaper.”

A new cloud kitchen in the market will provide cooking classes and allow culinary entrepreneurs to expand their business model. The kitchen, one of two the church now operates, allows rental space for entrepreneurs, and space for cooking demonstrations and healthy cooking classes.

“Not only was healthy food unaffordable,” Simmons said, “but we discovered that people in the neighborhood did not know how to cook healthy.”

In the 35 years Simmons has pastored Cornerstone, he has developed relationships with groups that can provide resources the community needs, and builds partnerships with nonprofits and other churches, many of them Southern Baptist.

Attendance continues to increase at church outreaches including free community meals served several days a week.

“Everything is up,” he said. “I would say probably about 25 to 30 percent, and again directly related to high inflation and reduction in EBT/SNAP benefits.”

Concurrently, the church is challenged in its humanitarian ministries, as outside donations are down about 25 percent from last year, Simmons said. Cornerstone has compensated by adjusting outreaches to stay within budget, including serving more pastas and stews, and delaying economic development construction projects.

Simmons is not deterred. He often reminds his congregation that Matthew 25, focused on helping the poor, comes before Matthew 28, which includes the Great Commission.

“So as we fulfill and are passionate about the Great Commission,” he said, “we also need to be compassionate about the need of helping who are the least, the lost and the lonely in our communities.”