When Pam Butler wants to buy groceries, she has to walk about a mile to Dollar General.
There’s no produce or meat, but the canned goods, milk and eggs the store carries will get her by until one of her children can take her to Walmart in La Marque or Kroger in another nearby city. For people like Butler, 58, who are without a vehicle and live in Hitchcock, there’s really no other option, she said.
“Every day, you see people from my neighborhood walking down the street to the dollar store, or to one of the convenience stores to buy little items,” she said. “Not having transportation — it ain’t easy. We really need a grocery store.”
Hitchcock’s only grocery store, Baywood Foods, closed in September 2014 and a new one never opened to replace it, creating a so-called food desert, an area where substantial numbers of low-income residents have little access to grocery stores or other retail outlets for healthy, affordable food.
But if a new plan — the winner of an American Planning Association conference held in Galveston in October — that addresses how the city can tackle its food desert problem takes off, then Hitchcock could become a different place.
The proposal, titled “Dealing with Food Insecurity and Preserving City Beautification,” looks at several different ways Hitchcock, a city with fewer than 8,000 people, could make it easier for residents like Butler to obtain groceries.
Community gardens, a local farmer’s market, a central place for people to receive fresh food donations from local charities and, of course, a new grocery store, would solve the food insecurity problems the city faces.
“All people have in Hitchcock is a Jack in the Box and a Subway, pretty much,” said Andret Rayford, the Texas Southern University urban planning student who co-authored the proposal with Stephania Alvarez and Jason Moreno. “Other than that, there are a couple little convenience stores that have sodas and chips and condiments. But besides not having much nutrition value, we found that that can be too expensive for an elderly person on fixed income or a young person without a job.”
The students’ proposal is the product of a $30,000 partnership Hitchcock’s Economic Development Corp. made earlier this year with Texas Target Communities, a Texas A&M University service program through the college of architecture that works along local governments to create sustainable communities.
Participating universities worked with Hitchcock city officials and stakeholders to develop a strategic plan for hurricane resilience, recovery, emergency management and zoning, according to the group’s website, as well as on community beautification, workforce development, drainage, strategic infrastructure, community outreach and communications and planning and zoning.
Whether or not the Texas Southern University plan catches on is up to how Hitchcock officials choose to use it, Rayford said. While some aspects of the proposal might take longer to put in place — a beer garden where people in the community can meet up and relax, for example — there’s nothing standing in the way of turning part of Stringfellow Orchards, a private event space on state Highway 6, into a community garden where people can pick up vegetables and other food, Rayford said.
“This kind of thinking is what Hitchcock needs,” said Sam Collins III, the Hitchcock resident who owns Stringfellow Orchards and weighed in as a source on the Texas Southern University students’ plan. “People here need a grocery store and other food options to survive and be healthy.”
Hitchcock officials weren’t available for comment about whether or not they were planning to turn the proposal into a reality in the city, but judging by their involvement in the Texas Southern University proposal, Rayford said she could see some elements of what the students came up with getting put in place quickly.
“The city was very receptive to what we came up with,” she said. “It’s pretty obvious that people who live in Hitchcock need a way to have healthy food.”