By Megan Whitworth
Care Share Food Pantry, located in Coldspring, is the first location in San Jacinto County to partner with the Houston Food Bank as a disaster distribution site to reach individuals who have suffered losses from Hurricane Harvey.
“Food insecurity occurs year-round. It’s not on a calendar,” said Betsy Ballard, Houston Food Bank chief communications officer. “During a time following disaster, the need for food assistance is magnified. The Houston Food Bank wants to reach people who need food assistance, but we can only do it through partner agencies, most of them operated by volunteers. We want to find more partners in counties like San Jacinto in order to extend access to food beyond geographic boundaries.”
Currently the Food Bank has 230 distribution sites in various areas across Southeast Texas, but only one in San Jacinto.
The Care Share Food Pantry will be open Mondays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. to distribute items. The Pantry is located at 21 Butler St.
Ballard said the Food Bank is seeking other partners in: Katy, Humble, Kingwood and Sheldon Lake areas in Harris County; Dickinson/Galveston County; and Brazoria, Fort Bend and Liberty counties.
Partners could be faith-based congregations and organizations, neighborhood organizations, community centers, social service organizations or other nonprofit entities. New partners would be considered disaster temporary agencies. If a group has access to a facility of some type that volunteers can run, Ballard said “let us know and we can look for a nonprofit partner to work with you.”
Houston Food Bank officials will deliver large quantities of food and cleaning supplies to partners at different locations. Partners will be responsible for all site logistics, including maintaining the facility, recruiting volunteers, observing a schedule for distributing product to clients and receiving product and handling all product after it’s delivered.
Partners also must be able to: accept and Accept and handle anywhere from 10 to 20 pallets of food (an 18-wheeler trailer holds 20 pallets); serve 150 to 300 people (or households) in a four-hour period; provide 10 to 20 volunteers at one time; be solely responsible for maintaining the site; comply with Houston Food Bank rules for Disaster Temporary Agencies.
“Hurricane Harvey created widespread devastation,” she said. “We haven’t been able to quantify the number of people who are seeking food assistance, but based on what we know about the extent of damage, it has to be much higher than the number of people who typically visit Houston Food Bank partner agencies. One indicator is the amount of food we’re distributing at several hubs in the greater Houston area. We leave an 18-wheeler trailer filled with food and supplies at a hub site one day, and then return the next day to pick up the empty trailer and replace it with another full one. That means those sites are distributing up to 20,000 pounds of product every day. At the peak time, we had 24 hubs. We’re down to 11, which means more individuals are either getting settled and finding other resources, or they’re going to other food pantry locations for help.”
Since Hurricane Harvey hit Southeast Texas, Ballard said the Houston Food Bank is distributing twice as much food as Food Bank normally does, Ballard said.
“In the first month since Harvey, we distributed 14 million pounds of product. That’s more than many food banks across the country are able to do,” she said. “We had 16,000 different people come volunteer during that month. Truckloads of product arrive at all hours of the day and night. We’ve added dozens of temporary and part-time staff to our normal employee base. Our board chair likes to say that this is the Houston Food Bank on steroids.
“Food insecurity is a problem in every community. People need food assistance for any number of reasons,” she added. “It’s related to poverty, and poverty can be a temporary thing or a persistent problem that affects someone’s life over a longer period of time. Hunger is blind to zip codes and demographic descriptions.”
For more information on submitting an organization to become a distributing disaster site, visit houstonfoodbank.org/harveysites.