Dignowity Hill residents hungry for more healthy food options closer to home

Shopping for groceries in neighborhood also a challenge, some say

SAN ANTONIO – People who live in the Dignowity Hill community say they are hungry for change when it comes to the kinds of food they have available in their neighborhood.

Some, including Kristian Ratcliffe, said the historic area just east of downtown San Antonio is chock full of businesses where they can get a quick bite to eat. Getting a good bite, though, is another story.

“(There are) at least five Mexican restaurants that I can think of right off the top of my head,” she said while taking a stroll along her neighborhood streets. “There’s Chinese food. There’s pizza. But it’s all fast food.”

Ratcliffe has lived with her parents in the same home on Dawson Street most of her life.

Lately, she says the neighborhood, itself, has begun taking on a new look, with many homes that were abandoned or rundown being remodeled.

Still, she and some of her neighbors say they have yet to see the same kind of upgrades applied to the types of food businesses that serve them.

“If you want to eat anything at least remotely healthy, it’s not in your neighborhood at all,” said Melany Cardenas, who is relatively new to Dignowity Hill.

Both women say even shopping for groceries that are on the healthy side close to home is a challenge.

Without traveling several miles by car, they say their list of choices is limited to a series of convenience stores, dollar stores, small shops, or one H-E-B store on North New Braunfels Avenue near East Houston Street which doesn’t meet all their needs.

“I’ll go to the one on Olmos (Drive), or I’ll go over to Central Market to get groceries because that’s where the freshest food is,” Ratcliffe said.

Cardenas agrees, saying she often ends up traveling to the H-E-B store in Lincoln Heights where she can find more variety.

Community and city leaders say attracting new business to the area continues to be a struggle.

Those complaints, according to some scholars, are not unique to this area.

Dr. Terrance L. Green, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin’s education department, says people in many urban neighborhoods across the country often face similar struggles.

“We can go to Houston. We can go to Detroit. We can go to Chicago. We can go to any city in America and that same scenario will play out,” he said.

Green has conducted numerous studies about life in inner-city communities, including how the closure of schools in the San Antonio Independent School District might impact families here.

He said research shows some inequalities are intentionally built in every aspect of life, including nutrition.

“The color of your skin, where you live, and how much money you have, it shapes the access of food that you have,” Green said.

Fred Fluckers says he noticed this problem in Dignowity Hill and the East Side, in general, a long time ago.

“This area has been in need of (nutritional) support for, probably, my lifetime,” Fluckers said.

Eight years ago, he and others decided to do what they could to help, by starting Gardopia Gardens.

They turned a patch of land that used to be a neighborhood trouble spot along North New Braunfels Avenue into a thriving farm.

“Even though it isn’t a large-scale operation, community members come in here all the time and pick fresh produce and get eggs from our chicken coop,” Fluckers said.

The goal, he says, is to plant some seeds of hope and health in the community.

Ratcliffe and Cardenas, though, are continuing to hope for a different harvest — new business to come to them.

“A Trader Joe’s would be nice,” Cardenas said.

Ratcliffe said she would like to see a neighborhood-style Walmart open near her home.

In response to the criticism of the North New Braunfels Avenue store, H-E-B spokeswoman Dya Campos emailed a statement saying that the location actually has been the site of some recent upgrades.

She said in 2021, the company made a “multi-million dollar investment” in that location, which it has operated for the past 40 years.

The statement read that the company “remodeled the store and replaced all refrigeration and cases to allow for an expanded product assortment in all departments that added more than 1,000 new items, including several dozen organic options in produce, meat, and grocery departments.”

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About the Authors

Katrina Webber joined KSAT 12 in December 2009. She reports for Good Morning San Antonio. Katrina was born and raised in Queens, NY, but after living in Gulf Coast states for the past decade, she feels right at home in Texas. It's not unusual to find her singing karaoke or leading a song with her church choir when she's not on-air.

Azian Bermea is a photojournalist at KSAT.

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