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A high school grocery store helps feed students in Denton County. A Fort Worth school is next

From left: Linda Tutt High School Principal Anthony Love and students Dylan Crow, center, and Oscar Morales, right, stand inside the on-campus grocery store that helps feed the area’s families. Crow and Morales, a junior and senior, respectively, had helped restock the store earlier that day.
Alexis Allison
Fort Worth Report
From left: Linda Tutt High School Principal Anthony Love and students Dylan Crow, center, and Oscar Morales, right, stand inside the on-campus grocery store that helps feed the area’s families. Crow and Morales, a junior and senior, respectively, had helped restock the store earlier that day.

Oscar Morales and Dylan Crow stood among shelves they’d restocked moments before. Jars of peanut butter — blue-topped for crunchy, red-topped for creamy — sat in neat rows next to fruit cups and plastic-wrapped bread. Nearby, a black cart brimmed with Mrs Baird’s and Oroweat.

The students attend Linda Tutt High School in Sanger, 20 minutes north of Denton, and both have known hunger and hardship. After his dad was deported, Morales and his sister didn’t have enough food at home. At times, Crow and his brothers went to bed hungry.

Years later, the two young men found solace in a grocery store.

The store is part of a larger initiative in Sanger ISD meant to help students develop resiliency. The program, which began in 2019 through a grant from Texas Health Resources, includes an online curriculum to teach students social emotional skills, a freshly hired trauma-informed counselor and access to free counseling through a local partner.

The next iteration will unfold this fall, at O.D. Wyatt High School in Fort Worth ISD. The two schools differ wildly, but both serve communities strapped for resources. In the coming months, the teams at Wyatt and Texas Health will brainstorm how to make a model that’s worked in a small, agrarian, alternative high school fit into a larger urban center.

“There are lessons that we have to learn,” said Marsha Ingle, senior director of Community Health Improvement with Texas Health Resources. She’s confident the team will figure them out.

“When you’re talking about resiliency in schools, you’re talking about the health of students, you’re talking about food insecurity,” she said. “Failure is not an option. Because if we fail, we’re not the ones that are hurt.”

A grocery store ‘could do some good for our students’

Anthony Love was preparing for his first year as principal of Linda Tutt High School when a representative from First Refuge Ministries in Denton mentioned the possibility of a grocery store.

Love had been worrying over the logistics of running a school: Did the teachers have everything they needed? Were the students in the right classes? But the idea stuck. “It didn’t take long to see that (a store) could do some good for our students,” he said.

Sanger, Texas, is an agricultural town of about 9,500 people that fits snugly within one ZIP code: 76266. The area’s food insecurity index, which measures food access and subsequent economic hardship on a scale from 0 to 100, is close to 40. A higher number reflects higher need and poorer health outcomes.

Texas Health identified the ZIP code as high need in the health care system’s Community Health Needs Assessment, which the government requires nonprofit hospitals to conduct every three years and publicize. Organizations that serve these priority ZIP codes may apply for a Texas Health Community Impact Grant, which awards collaborative, creative solutions to local problems.

Linda Tutt High School, in collaboration with First Refuge Ministries, received one of the grants in 2019 and 2021. The pandemic interrupted the program’s progress, but by November 2020, the grocery store was open to the public.

‘There are some issues you can’t fix with education’

The store’s purpose is multi-pronged: Help keep food on the table for local families while teaching students, who stock and manage the store, to handle a job. At the same time, they glimpse what it can look like to serve their community, Love said.

Every Tuesday evening, the store opens to anyone. Linda Tutt’s students and teachers help shepherd families who attend.

“This grocery store honestly helped me,” Morales said. “Everybody from Sanger comes in here and parks here, and then we bring them their groceries. The smile on their faces just makes my day.”

Also, they’ve recently begun planting a community garden three miles away. Eventually, they hope produce from the garden will line the shelves. Meanwhile, the store offers standard wares: Bread, pasta, peanut butter, milk, eggs and produce, among other staples.

Community organizations like churches donate the food. Sometimes, people take up the mantle. A gentleman who owns chickens supplies the eggs, Love said. Another hauled his pickup to the store — bursting with bread. Grant money purchases the rest.

During the school day, students can access the store. Rather than money changing hands, they pay for their groceries using a point system they helped develop. A small jar of peanut butter costs one point. A large jar costs two.

A cart of bread products sits in Linda Tutt High School’s grocery store.
Alexis Allison
Fort Worth Report
A cart of bread products sits in Linda Tutt High School’s grocery store.

Students amass points through need and merit. Each student receives points based on their family size. From there, they earn additional points by succeeding academically or showing kindness to their peers. They can utilize the store once a week; afterward, the points reset.

The system gives students ownership over their shopping and normalizes the experience, Love said.

Before the grocery store, Linda Tutt offered a backpack program for students who needed food on the weekends. Some students refused the backpacks, Love learned, because they didn’t want to stand out among their peers.

Love encourages each of the school’s roughly 70 students to use the store. The food, he said, isn’t solely for them — they can bring it to their relatives or neighbors.

Meanwhile, students across the district move through an online curriculum called Ripple Effects during their homeroom. The program comprises hundreds of modules meant to sharpen social emotional skills, Ingle said.

To complement their learning, the Texas Health grant funded a trauma-informed counselor for the district. First Refuge Ministries offers free counseling for students who need it.

“There are some issues that you can’t fix with education,” said Ingle, with Texas Health. “You need to get in there and talk with the student, talk with the family.”

‘If it’s not making an impact, it’s not making an impact’

In the first years of Linda Tutt’s grocery store, the program garnered international acclaim, crystallized in part by segments on Good Morning America and The Drew Barrymore Show.

Schools across the U.S. and ocean, including one in Scotland, have contacted Ingle, she said. They want to implement the grocery store and resiliency program with their own students. She’s quick to caution: The model isn’t one-size-fits-all.

“It’s not, ‘Here is Sanger’s blueprint, you do the same thing,’” she said. “‘It’s, ‘Here is Sanger’s framework. Now, what makes sense in your area?’”

The forthcoming program at Wyatt awaits its own challenges. First, the Fort Worth high school’s enrollment is more than 1,500, compared to Linda Tutt’s fewer than 100.

Most of the students at Wyatt are Black or Latino; at Linda Tutt, they’re mostly white or Latino. Furthermore, nearly 10 in 10 students at Wyatt are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch or other assistance. At Linda Tutt, that number is closer to four in 10.

The differences pose opportunities, Ingle said: “We’re starting small. We’re going to pilot this at O.D. Wyatt and learn our lessons.”

Rather than in a classroom on campus, the Fort Worth store will sit in a nearby portable. Initially, it will be open only to students experiencing homelessness, Wyatt Principal Howard Robinson said. That’s about 65-70 people, he said — close to the enrollment at Linda Tutt.

Teachers have already come with ideas to supplement the program: Could they offer clothing in the store? Could they procure a washer and dryer for students who don’t have access?

“Unless their basic needs are met, they don’t care what you’re going to teach them today,” Robinson said.

Other questions remain: Whether Wyatt will adopt a similar point system, which foods the store will stock and which community partners in Fort Worth will come aboard. Kroger has already reached out, Robinson said.

The gesture was touching. Robinson grew up in Fort Worth. His first job was a “sacker” at a city Kroger.

He’s also yet to discern how to normalize the store while focusing only on a subset of students, and how to measure success. “(The approach) can look nice and shiny, but if it’s not making an impact, it’s not making an impact,” Robinson said.

He’s hopeful. “I think it’s going to be a game-changer,” he said.

For Morales, the student at Linda Tutt, the grocery store is a safe space. He works to make it so. A good display helps the store feel more welcoming, he said.

As a child, Morales kept getting into trouble. He enrolled in Linda Tutt through the school’s program for students at risk of dropping out or not graduating on time. Now, he said, the community is his support system. The store enables him to serve people whose stories he doesn’t know.

“Anybody can be going through anything,” he said. “Even if you don’t really like the person, that person could honestly be going through something really bad. And I just feel like it’s just very important to give care to everybody. That’s why I really like this program.”

As for Crow, he said he enrolled at Linda Tutt angry at the world. He doesn’t know how he survived his childhood, he said, but now he counts it a blessing. His faith informs him, and his church and school support him.

“(My childhood) was kind of scary,” he said. “But I’m not there anymore. I’m blessed to be here. I love it here.”

Alexis Allison is the health reporter at the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at or via Twitter.

Her position is supported by a grant from Texas Health Resources. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

Alexis Allison covers health for the Fort Worth Report. When she can, she'll slip in an illustration or two. Allison is a former high school English teacher and hopes her journalism is likewise educational. She has a master's in journalism from the Missouri School of Journalism.