"DART Serves" Transports Hope
Agency delivered food and resources to help families in need
DART got involved in COVID-19 relief efforts in early April by doing what it does best - providing transportation. Through eight unique programs and many partnerships, DART helped deliver more than 188,000 meals and care packages as of mid-September.
"We began looking for innovative ways to use our excess capacity from emergency service reductions. We wanted to address equity gaps that emerged due to the pandemic," DART Chief Innovation Officer Gregory Elsborg said.
The agency created the "DART Serves" platform to give a name to the new outreach efforts and formalize existing corporate social responsibility activities.
Paratransit vehicles bring groceries to seniors and people with disabilities
When many customers stopped traveling, the agency's Paratransit Services added grocery pickup and delivery to its roster of services. Since the pandemic began, DART Paratransit drivers have made almost 700 grocery delivery trips.
Existing paratransit riders can place orders with the grocery store and the agency's drivers will pick up and deliver those groceries for free.
DART Paratransit also helped the Dallas Park and Recreation Active Senior Adult Program, Catholic Charities Dallas Senior Services and Richardson's Network of Community Ministries by delivering meal packages to seniors and families needing food support.
School districts aid student families
The agency assisted the Dallas, Garland and Richardson independent school districts by using available buses and vans to deliver more than 75,000 meals to families who relied on their schools' food programs.
For example, Garland ISD partnered with DART and Good Samaritans of Garland, which provided the groceries, to distribute meal kits containing a week's supply of food to 200 families each week of the spring COVID-19 school closure. Garland ISD and DART staff members prepared, loaded, unloaded and distributed the food boxes at four schools located in the areas with the greatest need.
"Our partnership with DART was a tremendous help. Everyone from the bus drivers to DART administrators treated our families with respect and compassion," said Dr. Babetta Hemphill, Garland ISD executive director of student services.
Partnerships provide fresh produce to southern Dallas
The University of North Texas at Dallas - through its Community Basket Mobile Farmers Market initiative - partnered with Toyota Motor North America, Oak Cliff Veggie Project, Lone Star Human Services, GROW North Texas, and DART to provide fresh produce to families living in three apartment communities with no nearby grocery stores. The North Texas Food Bank and other organizations donated food and baby supplies.
"The partnership with DART was essential to the success of our three events," said Dr. Kelly Varga, executive director of the UNT Dallas Community Basket Mobile Farmers Market. "Having a DART bus made it efficient for us to transport the food from the staging area to the apartments."
A $268,000 grant from Toyota is supporting the UNT Dallas initiative that will sell fresh produce in food-insecure communities in southern Dallas while creating a real-world learning experience for its students. Most recently, Toyota provided grants and logistical insights for nonprofits in DFW to provide produce and other essential items to families impacted heavily by COVID-19.
"When Toyota and nonprofits in southern Dallas came together to support families in need, we knew distribution was a critical piece of the puzzle. DART played a huge part in helping us accomplish our goal," said Yumna Bham, Toyota Social Innovation program leader.
According to Ples Montgomery IV, executive director of the Oak Cliff Veggie Project, these families reside in one of the largest "food desserts" in Dallas and experience some of the highest levels of inequity when it comes to access to fresh, healthy produce.
"We are a small-scale grassroots organization and DART's involvement allowed us to acquire and distribute more food than we normally would with use of their buses," Montgomery said.
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