A Dallas-based nonprofit is helping to fill in the service gaps left by Dallas Independent School District (DISD) by providing hot meals and transportation to students in South Dallas.
“Something like 25% of kids in the area don’t get a real meal every day,” claimed Niesha Minter, founder and co-director of Search Life Inc., speaking with The Dallas Express.
She and co-director Shuntella Marshall ensure neighborhood students are well-fed when they get out of school. They work out of a repurposed restaurant (formerly the X Bar and Grill) on South Malcolm X Boulevard that they have dubbed “Saved By The Bell.”
The project launched in September 2022, just a few months after it was discovered that DISD was allegedly serving moldy and spoiled food at several campuses across the city.
“It’s a shame that I have to instruct my child to go through their breakfast and their lunch as if it’s Halloween candy to look for molded items,” said district parent Randall Bryant, speaking with WFAA back in May.
As reported in The Dallas Express, a poll conducted by the outlet found that a plurality of respondents believe the district suffers from mismanagement at the highest levels.
“While the DISD is serving food, the quality is so bad and has such a bad reputation that parents and students feel it is best not to bother,” said Micah Mitchell, social media manager and project lead for the local education advocacy group Dallas Justice Now, speaking with The Dallas Express.
“We serve them hot foods, homecooked, something that’ll stick with them,” Minter said, noting that the operation serves more than 100 meals per day in partnership with a local faith-based organization called BridgeBuilders.
Saved By The Bell also provides a safe space for children to hang out and engage with educational programs and activities.
“We host a book club, and there’s also a male mentoring program,” Minter told The Dallas Express, adding that they were also going to launch an entrepreneurship and leadership program in the near future.
“And that is where her organization is doing what is vital. By making sure that those children have a home-cooked style meal,” stated Mitchell in an email to The Dallas Express.
“This combined with afterschool care/activities (studying, supervised playtime, etc) is going a long way to addressing the needs of children at risk of falling thru the cracks,” he continued.
For its part, DISD acknowledged it may have been serving potentially spoiled food in at least two school cafeterias and moved to pull the menu items in question back in May, stating:
“Our students look to us to provide high-quality food options when they are in our care, and unfortunately, we have had some challenges in that area. … Since the start of the pandemic, we, along with many other large districts, have relied heavily on prepackaged meals to provide uninterrupted meal service. We are working to fully transition back to offering a more robust hot food menu as we begin to stockpile inventory.”
Dallas Justice Now, which primarily focuses on “tackling the root causes of institutionalized racism in our city,” further praised Minter’s and Marshall’s efforts in a statement to The Dallas Express:
“Dallas ISD has neglected black students with failing schools. Giving black students poisoned rotten food was their way of telling us we have no choice but to take whatever they give us.
“In these desperate circumstances, we must applaud the women [at Saved By The Bell] who are making sure that students and families … aren’t subject to the circumstance of malnutrition.”
“Nutrition is an ongoing struggle in the Black community, and there are no quick fixes found in cookie-cutter solutions. But it is clear that Dallas ISD’s decision to serve spoiled food is yet another indication that black children in Dallas need competition in where they go to school.”
For those who want to support Saved By The Bell and help feed more neighborhood kids, a donation can be made to For Them (by Search Life Inc) on the organization’s GoFundMe page.