The Houston Meals Financial institution is responding to its biggest problem with coronavirus

Scenes of mile-long lines of cars stretching to the horizon waiting for food to be distributed are among the iconic images of 2020. Families across the country faced food insecurity during the coronavirus pandemic.

With millions of people suddenly unemployed (1.6 million of them in Texas) and unemployment benefits flowing, the need for food aid has become part of the daily existence of COVID-19 since March. In Texas, food banks were preparing for an unprecedented demand.

Celia Cole, CEO of Feeding Texas, the network of state-owned food banks, called it “some kind of perfect storm”. It is good that the Houston Food Bank knows how to respond to devastating storms.

Building on Hurricane Harvey’s disaster know-how, the country’s largest food bank was able to respond quickly to new levels of need.

“One of the benefits of Houston having previously suffered disasters is that we have been able to pivot faster and stronger,” said Brian Greene, president and CEO of Houston Food Bank. “We know how to think about a disaster.”

How to help

Visit houstonfoodbank, org to learn more about hunger in the Houston area, or to make a donation or volunteer for the Houston Food Bank while networking.

For all its optimism, the grocery bank worried that it had the muscle to meet its biggest challenge yet.

“We had to do a huge jump,” said Greene. “The challenge was that we didn’t know where the resources were coming from.”

However, economic resources came quickly. Texan JJ Watt and his wife Kealia Ohai Watt immediately donated $ 350,000. Astro Alex Bregman and his fiancée Regan Howard launched the #FEEDHOU campaign to support the grocery bank with a donation goal of $ 1 million. $ 2 million was raised. The Spirit Golf Association’s Spirit Food Fund raised more than $ 1.1 million for the Food Bank. The Children’s Foundation donated $ 1 million. The McKesson Foundation, Phillips 66, Bank of America, Aramco, and Cheniere gave a combined donation of $ 1.8 million. Individual donations, which make up 75 percent of charity donations to the grocery bank, as well as corporate donations and increased supermarket donations helped the grocery bank meet the increased demand during COVID-19.

The new dollars and increased food donations were used immediately as the food bank’s demand rose 150 percent from the 1.1 million traditionally served. July is a good example: in July 2020, 147,436 households were served per week, compared with 64,808 households per week in July 2019. The grocery bank distributes 800,000 to 900,000 pounds of grocery daily. The average daily output at the same time a year ago was around 450,000.

The coronavirus asked the Food Bank to rewrite its disaster playbook on the fly. The deliberations were daunting: pay for more food; Finding how to access excess meat, dairy, and produce; how to get dry goods when Americans clear supermarket shelves during panic buying; rent additional storage; increasing route leads to partner charities; Quarantine home deliveries to seniors; Establishment of super-site distribution centers and organization of mammoth mass distribution days; and organizing volunteers in a public health emergency that required masks and social distancing.

Although pandemic health issues resulted in a nearly 40 percent year-over-year decrease in volunteers, the food bank’s workforce was increased by laid-off employees from Harris County as well as employees from the United Way of Greater Houston, Greater, Houston Community Foundation, and even the National Guard.

And those long lines for food aid? They worry most about Greene because they are full of the growing segment of the working poor.

“Most of the people we help are employed,” he said. “The people who really fight? Most of them have jobs. You work, but you don’t make enough money. “

Towards the end of the year, Greene’s next step is to respond to ongoing demand during the coronavirus pandemic when commitments run out. It’s the next storm the Houston Food Bank has to face.

greg.morago@chron.com

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