Federal authorities temporarily closed J’s Food Mart earlier this month, and now the crime den will stay closed thanks to an agreement reached out-of-court Monday. The case, prosecuted under a new Project Safe Neighborhoods crime fighting effort, was set to go to trial Thursday, but the tenant agreed to drop his fight and give up his lease.
Feed Lake Highlands (FLH) shares a parking lot with J’s and hosts a food distribution effort, after school program and church just steps from the store. Reverend Pamela Clark, outreach pastor for FLH, says children walking to church services on Sunday morning have frequently encountered remnants of weekend drug use, passed out drunks and other hazards.
“For us it had become normal,” Clark told me. “The prostitutes, the gunshots, the kids playing coin games – so normal that we would go over sometimes and invite them to church. It’s nice that the feds have stepped in. Now we don’t have to worry so much about our kids.”
Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN) is an effort to stem the increase in Lake Highlands crime, particularly between Forest-Audelia and the Vickery area, using grants from the federal government and partnerships between local, state and federal law enforcement agencies. Shutting down J’s is one early success story, and Clark believes the effort has already made a difference to the thousands she helps.
“We moved into that area to be a stable force for people in need of food, people who want their kids to get a good education and people who want a church family. A lot of our folks don’t have transportation, so they walk, or parents bring them. When they see crime in the parking lot, they turn around and go home.”
Feed Lake Highlands, an outreach of Lake Highlands United Methodist Church, has been serving the apartment community out of a storefront in the shopping center at Whitehurst and Skillman near LBJ for 12 years.
“We still call J’s ‘the C-Store,’ because that’s what it was when we got here.”
With J’s now gone for good, Clark is ready to let her vision for Feed Lake Highlands – and J’s – expand.
“I hope one day we can have that building,” said Clark, a perennial optimist. “The octagonal shape would make a great youth center, and we could have supervised basketball in there. The feds stepping in is the first step, because before, people wouldn’t come out of their apartments – they were scared to death.”
If you’d like to support Feed Lake Highlands, you can learn more here about donating clothes to their Clothes Closet, volunteering with their after school program, preparing and serving lunch to congregants in their church, donating and/or distributing food to the needy or making a financial contribution.