Need for food skyrockets as Houstonians reel under coronavirus crisis shockwaves

Growing need, demand for food in Houston during coronavirus crisis
Growing need, demand for food in Houston during coronavirus crisis

HOUSTON – The line of vehicles wrapped around Blackshear Elementary School in historic Third Ward Monday resembled the dismissal rush. Houston Independent School District Police directed traffic — a steady stream of moms and dads in the hundreds. However, school has been shut for a month because of the coronavirus.

Monday’s line at Blackshear Elementary, along with four other HISD schools, were full of Houston-area families in need of food.

Each of HISD’s food distribution sites is stocked to donate up to 500 bags of food per day.

RELATED: HISD releases list of food distribution sites for week of April 13

In fact, demand for food at area food banks and outreach organizations has more than doubled, according to some on the frontlines.

“We have grown 130% as far as the demand almost as quickly overnight,” said Beth Harp, executive director of Kids’ Meals.

The organization delivers free lunch to children under the age of six who don’t have access to free and reduced lunch at school.

More children home means more mouths to feed. Kids’ Meals averaged roughly 3,000 meals per day before the coronavirus pandemic. Officials say the number now tops 7,000.

“Sometimes we see both mom and dad or both guardians have lost their jobs and they just don’t know how they’re going to feed their kids,” Harp said.

They’ve been low on bread, as a result, but Harp said donations keep coming, albeit at a slower pace because of heightened demand.

Some of the food prepared at Kids’ Meals comes from the Houston Food Bank, which has seen its demand grow, too.

“We’re seeing 750,000 pound days,” said Brian Greene, president and CEO of the Houston Food Bank.

Greene said distribution levels are at the level they were during Hurricane Harvey. They’re expected to surpass those figures.

“We are purchasing at very rapid levels. We received donations to do so, so we are. But the sheer numbers that are coming in are very difficult to keep up with,” Greene said.

The number of Texans seeking unemployment benefits continues to rise, nearing 1 million applications filed since the week of Feb. 22.

Greene said demand likely will drop with stimulus checks set to reach Texans this week. Still, he said he expects the need for food to remain high.

“The number of people who suddenly are out of work — we’ll do what we can but ultimately we can’t replace that level of lost income,” Greene said.

The Houston Food Bank has reduced the number of volunteers allowed inside its facilities to account for social distancing. The organization still needs volunteers, however, in the form of drivers to distribute meals. Volunteers are asked to sign up online.

Kids’ Meals has had to scale back the number of volunteers it allows inside of its facility, as well, despite the high demand for food. Organizers are also seeking donations in the form of packaged foods and prepared lunches.

Gabriel Medina delivered a box full of chef-prepared, individual servings of chicken tetrazzini. Medina owns Click Virtual Food Hall, a local food delivery company. To help Kids’ Meals meet demand, Medina has a special promotion running for customers.

“Every $30 purchase that customers make on our app, we’re able to donate one nutrient-dense food for kids meals.”

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Emmy and Edward R. Murrow award-winning journalist. NOLA born and bred, though #HoustonStrong, with stops in Minnesota, New York, Massachusetts, and Connecticut in along the way.