The Houston Meals Financial institution will stay in “catastrophe mode” for days

The officers knocked on each door of the East Harris County senior housing complex in quick succession.

Most residents replied that some were in wheelchairs or walkers and others were missing limbs from battles with diabetes.

“How are you?” District 2 MPs asked, “Would you like a hot meal?”

The seniors smiled and gratefully took the beef stew provided by the Houston Food Bank. For some it was the first warm meal after two days without electricity.

“You come into situations where we urgently need it,” said 69-year-old resident Victor Paredes. “Everyone here, they are disabled, they need oxygen … so I’m glad they got through.”

Like many others in Harris County, residents at Big Bass Resort in Jacinto City ran out of groceries by Thursday. After the winter storm iced the streets and entrenched millions without water and electricity, Texan officials anticipate major food shortages in the coming days and weeks, prompting the Houston Food Bank to launch bulk food giveaways that are already on the rise over the weekend.

Calls from residents in need have meant that the Tafel expects long lines at facilities where their partner groups distribute their food. The food bank has a huge reach in southeast Texas, with 159 million meals served in 18 counties in the past fiscal year, according to spokeswoman Paula Murphy.

When you need help

Houston Food Bank Hotline: 832-369-9390

Map and other resources to find food: houstonfoodbank.org/find-help

How to help

Visit houstonfoodbank.org/winterstorm. Donations can be made online.

Voluntary registration options are available online at the Tafel’s Wintersturm web address.

People who donate food can host a virtual food fundraiser through the website or donate food by contacting the Houston Food Bank at donateASAP@houstonfoodbank.org or by calling 281-786-2676.

Most Needed Items: Bottled Water; ready-to-eat foods such as soup, canned noodles, and canned protein; Granola bar; Cereal and bread

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“The Tafel and all of the partners we work with are almost the last resort,” said Brian Greene, president and CEO of the organization. “For many households, it can be the difference between getting through and tragedy.”

In ‘disaster mode’

Aside from problems grocery stores may have with their shelves replenishing, most food shortages correspond to income shortages, Greene said. Families already struggling financially – some still recovering from previous floods and others laid off during the pandemic – could find themselves in tougher situations after losing a week of incomes due to a disability during the freeze.

Some of the money spent on groceries prior to the storm was likely lost as a lack of electricity caused chilled or frozen items to spoil, Greene said. And unforeseen costs from building damage can make it difficult to afford groceries.

Greene believes that food shortages reflect experiences during hurricanes. Many households need help in the first few days after a storm and then the number trickles down to low-income households that have suffered significant damage, he said.

In response to anticipated needs, Harris County officials have urged supporters outside of the state to donate to the food bank.

“Even if the lights come back on, we will face a food and water crisis in Harris County, Texas,” Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo tweeted Thursday.

The food bank entered a “disaster mode” as of Monday, with offices closed and no volunteers working due to adverse conditions, Murphy said. But workers were delivering thousands of meals to open partners, and skeletal teams were stationed to attend to urgent requests through Wednesday.

Some of these locations included the George R. Brown and American Red Cross Thermal Shelters, Lakewood Church, Brazoria County Thermal Center in Lake Jackson, and the Brazoria Dream Center. The shelter also distributed blankets, some of which were donated by Walmart.

In the offices of the food banks in east Houston, the employees worked in greater numbers on Thursday. They made beef stew on a conveyor belt and others made ham and cheese sandwiches. It is not possible to estimate how many people might have to be fed, said the culinary manager Judd Lohof.

“We try to be ready to meet the need and respond when called for help,” he said.

A neighborly gesture

Gloria Partida responded with delight when she opened her door to the MPs, who greeted her with the beef stew on the table.

“How many?” asked Constable Jerry Garcia.

“Five!” Partida, 79, laughed. “No, just one.”

She survived on tuna sandwiches, but now she’s out of bread. She had no luck in the grocery store when the ice cream was off the streets.

“I was there yesterday and couldn’t find bread anywhere,” she said.

When MPs had handed out nearly 250 servings of stew, they went upstairs to entrust some leftovers to 82-year-old park doll Jackson Burks. They asked her to distribute the rest because they heard that this week she was feeding a handful of neighbors with meals that she could cook over cans.

Burks was in a good mood, quick to help, and eager to show off her cooking skills. She went to her kitchen and returned with her famous tea cakes and banana bread, which she usually sells in church.

Garcia immediately pulled out a crisp bill.

“I’ll take both,” said the constable. “Keep the change so you can buy more and make more money.”

Burks bowed his head in shock and wept. She raised her hands in praise.

“The more you give, the more he gives you back,” she said.

samantha.ketterer@chron.com

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