Little Red Box
Grocery Delivery + Good Food Know-How for low-income households in food deserts
Lead Applicant Organization Name
Little Red Box
Lead Applicant Organization Type
Small company (under 50 employees)
If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.
Galveston Urban Ministries is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to develop holistic relationships that transform Galveston via engagement, equipment, and empowerment. Whether teaching kids how to read, helping adult neighbors prepare to enter the work force, or educating work groups from all over Texas on how to alleviate poverty, GUM's goal is to see the Galveston community (and the North Broadway neighborhood in particular) thrive.
UTMB Health (The University of Texas Medical Branch) includes schools of Medicine, Nursing, Health Professions and Graduate Biomedical Sciences; four institutes for advanced study; a major medical library; a network of hospitals and clinics that provide a full range of primary and specialized medical care; and numerous research facilities. UTMB is a part of The University of Texas System and a member of the Texas Medical Center.
Website of Legally Registered Entity
How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?
Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?
Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?
United States of America
Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?
Galveston, a coastal city and port in the American State of Texas, covers a total area of 209.3 square miles (542 km^2).
What country is your selected Place located in?
United States of America
Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.
Galveston holds a special place in the lore of Texas. In the 1800's it was the state's center of trade and one of the nation's largest ports. Galveston grew rapidly throughout the 19th century, and by 1900 boasted the nation’s second-highest per capita income, after Providence, Rhode Island. It was in that year, however, that a hurricane decimated the island, killing nearly one in six residents. Galveston has never returned to its levels of national importance or prosperity, and over the past century it has suffered from a succession of storms, most recently 2008’s Hurricane Ike, which all but destroyed the city a second time (billions of dollars in damage and the precipitating event of a population decline of 17% between 2008 and 2010)
Following Hurricane Ike, two members of this team, Josh Dorrell (Executive Director of Galveston Urban Ministries) and Dr. John Prochaska (Assistant Professor at UTMB) moved to the Island in order to start (or to expand) their work... to assess, to understand, and to rebuild. Here is a little about Josh's story...
In the summer of 2010 while jogging on the streets of Chicago, God broke Josh Dorrell’s heart for the city of Galveston. It was four little words that did it: “Galveston is the place.” Josh described it as the “clearest voice I had ever heard." He went home and told his wife, Danielle, who was at home with their two year old daughter Zoe. Barely able to pick out Galveston on a map, the Dorrells packed up and found themselves in Galveston that very same weekend.
Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.
27 miles longs and only 3 miles at it’s widest point, Galveston, Texas begins where US 45 ends. The city is filled with an eclectic mix of surfers, retirees, professionals, and artists. Most locals classify themselves as either B.O.I. (Born On The Island) or I.B.C. (Islander By Choice). Tourists flock to Galveston year round, and visitors will push the normal population of 50,000 up by 100,000 on the weekends and 400,000 during special events. With over 60 structures listed on the National Register of Historic Places and being home to a myriad of historically significant events like the Juneteenth Proclamation, Galveston is overflowing with rich, vibrant history.
However, like every city, Galveston also has its challenges. The average income in Galveston is around $36,000 a year, well below the national average. The number of Galveston residents who are at or below the poverty line is 23.2 percent, far greater than that of Texas as a whole (17.6) or the United States (15.1), owing to the reality that many of those jobs are held by low-paid employees in the service sector of the island’s tourism-driven economy.
Galveston, then, represents a Texas anomaly: an urban mini-city wrapped in a tourist town with the feel of a museum situated on a barrier island that is periodically shelled by hurricanes. And yet no city is more quintessentially Texan, and nowhere are needs more acute than this island city.
Population estimates (July 2019, per the U.S. Census Bureau): White, not Hispanic or Latino (47%); Hispanic (32%); Black or African American (18%); Foreign-born persons (14%)
What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)
What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?
Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.
In addition to the above-referenced statistics on poverty...
Approximately 40% of Galveston County’s 300,000 residents live in food deserts – census tracts designated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as low-income (a poverty rate of 20 percent or greater) and low-access (at least 33 percent of the population lives more than 1 mile from a supermarket or large grocery store).
Of these, roughly 30,000 are considered low-income, which corresponds with the 34,000 Galveston County food stamp recipients who in December 2019 spent $4.0 million SNAP dollars on food.
The neighborhood where we will focus our services is an area called North Broadway, an area of roughly 20 square blocks, densely populated, and with the highest per capita concentration of SNAP recipients in Galveston County. There is a dearth of local healthy food access points within a reasonable distance – residents literally walk-a-path to the Ball Food Store (37th and Avenue H), which is a is a neighborhood C-store that mostly sells convenience store items, alongside a smattering of staple/non-perishable items, the pricing on which is exceedingly high. Otherwise, residents must travel more than three miles to reach a full-service grocer, oftentimes having to borrow a car or take public transportation more than an hour one-way).
Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.
Background and Issue
The community in which one lives – “community” defined in part by its physical, economic, and political environments – together with one’s individual characteristics and behaviors, constitute the social determinants that will dictate much of one’s healthfulness.
One such critical determinant is access to healthy and affordable foods, which is traditionally satisfied via a full-service grocery retailer, the proximity to which is directly correlated with a better diet and decreased risk for obesity and diet-related chronic diseases.
Yet for many of Galveston’s residents, convenient access to healthy foods is simply out-of-reach. Families that live in food deserts – where access to transportation and healthy foods is low, and where access to unhealthy foods is high – must overcome significant barriers simply to go grocery shopping. As an individual’s food choices are mostly influenced by what is immediately available, families that lack access often choose the less healthy options of processed or convenient fast foods. This leads to the access paradox, in which a diet fueled by limited access to fresh and healthy foods is making poor families obese while leaving them hungry.
Little Red Box was developed to address the intractable issue of food deserts and, what we feel, is a market failure to provide consistent access to a well-priced assortment to healthy and fresh food. Communities that lack access to such foods experience increasingly negative health outcomes, and perpetuate significant pain points - physical, financial, social – for families who seek to engage in a behavior that many of us take for granted: going to the grocery store.
Our hypothesis is that by providing grocery delivery (or nearby grocery pick-up) to low-access areas, offering a limited yet highly relevant product assortment, layering in a nudge toward healthfulness (meal planning, recipes), and engaging/empowering individual communities around physical access points (think: well-designed, retrofitted shipping container), then we could change the conversation re: food deserts (i.e., just because they exist doesn't mean that have to).
The population we are targeting is large, concentrated, and almost entirely untapped by the traditional access points; by definition there is no full service grocer, and delivery companies (e.g., Shipt/Instacart focus on higher-income ZIPs. But we feel that there's a market for a hyper-localized yet scalable model, which if proven in Galveston can be expanded to food deserts across the country.
High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.
We only see what we expect to see... until we change our expectations.
These words I heard one Sunday about 18 months ago, on a morning that I was particularly receptive to The Message. It was on this morning that Little Red Box began to take shape. It was the morning that I asked myself... do food deserts exist because there is no market for fresh, healthy, affordable food? Or do they exist because our expectations have atrophied in the face of what is... that a market has failed to deliver a service simply because it is not structured in a way to do so sustainably? We posit the latter, and we aim to change expecations not based on what is, but on what can be.
We believe that convenient access to good food should not be the sole province of a select few. Little Red Box seeks to democratize access to good food. We are developing a technology and community-driven platform that will bring the benefits of grocery delivery to the base of the pyramid in an attempt to challenge the expectation that, just because food deserts exist does not mean they have to. Simply put, we feel that the market has failed with respect to access.
Little Red Box (LRB) seeks to bring grocery delivery/neighborhood grocery pick-up to an area that currently lacks access to a full-service store. By creating this community-driven service, LRB intends to increase access to and knowledge of healthy and affordable foods, as well as to foster broader community engagement amongst neighborhood residents and programs already in place.
Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?
Little Red Box, Galveston Urban Ministries, and UTMB have partnered to build this holistic approach to improving health in the North Broadway neighborhood as a means to bridge knowledge gaps and to leverage one another’s core strengths and existing resources. Our intention is to design this "ground-up", by which we mean we will engage local community organizations and residents in order to understand/validate our hypothesis with respect to pain points, and build the service in accordance to the needs of our intended customers/beneficiaries such that it is tailored, accessible, and impactful.
Tactically, the manner in which each organization intends to address access, know-how, and community engagement is outlined as follows:
Little Red Box:
Deliver a robust, relevant selection of staple/healthy grocery items, offering the benefits of convenience and a good value for families in food deserts.
Increase understanding of and education about good food; demonstrate demand for products and a service to an industry that has otherwise ignored it.
Foster intra-community collaboration through engagement and empowerment [e.g., employment opportunities; food access as a bridge to other access gaps].
Galveston Urban Ministries:
Neighborhood properties will provide physical access points for early-stage focus groups, as well as pick-up site(s) for LRB customers.
Provide unique insights into program relevancy and community needs (e.g., where and how to focus educational efforts).
Built-in relationships and trust will help enroll residents into the process – local voices will build this service from the ground-up; GUM-participation provides validation across stakeholders.
Receipt analysis – what is being purchased will drive product assortment, with an objective focus on healthfulness.
Develop a baseline understanding of the local health landscape vis-à-vis other areas; identify knowledge gaps and high-impact solutions.
How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?