Feeding Houston’s hungry: 1M pounds of food daily for needy

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Pallets of various foods are stacked on shelves in the extensive warehouse at the Houston Food Bank Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020, in Houston. It's the largest U.S. food bank and national food bank leaders say they don't see an end in sight to the demand. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke)

HOUSTON – In car lines that can stretch half a mile, (0.8 kilometers), workers who lost jobs because of the coronavirus pandemic and other needy people receive staggering amounts of food distributed by the Houston Food Bank. On some days, the hundreds of sites supplied by the country’s largest food bank collectively get 1 million pounds.

Among the ranks of recipients is unemployed construction worker Herman Henton, whose wife is a home improvement store worker and now the sole breadwinner for their family of five. They tried to get food stamps but were told they only qualified for $25 of federal food assistance monthly.

“As a man, as a father, as a provider I felt at a low point. I felt low," Henton said as he waited in his car near West Houston Assistance Ministries, which gets food from the Houston Food Bank for its care packages aimed at helping feed families for a week. "In this type of situation there’s nothing you can really do.”

Distributions by the Houston Food Bank now average about 800,000 pounds (363,000 kilograms) daily after reaching the unprecedented 1 million pound mark for the first time in the spring, a level that the organization still delivers periodically.

Before the coronavirus struck, the group's average daily distribution was 450,000 pounds (184,000 kilograms), said Houston Food Bank President Brian Greene.

Then workers in Houston and millions around the country were suddenly thrown out of work and forced to rely on the handouts.

“It had that feeling of a disaster, like the hurricanes in the Gulf,” Greene recalled. “It was shocking how the lines exploded so quickly.”

Almost overnight, one of America's most ethnically and racially diverse cities became a symbol of a desperate need as the food bank scrambled to take in enough milk, bread, vegetables and meat from multiple sources to feed the hungry.