"We're hearing a lot of fear," said Gayle Nelson, executive director of Family Promise of Clear Creek, a nonprofit that helps homeless families transition into residences and employment.
On March 20, groups held at least two separate food-distribution events in the Bay Area to provide meals for struggling families. Organizers said they saw greater turnout than normal.
Terry Worthy, food distribution coordinator for League City United Methodist Church, said the church served 211 families. The previous distribution event two weeks prior served 170 families, she said.
"Our numbers were up last week, for sure," Worthy said.
That boost in numbers came despite the fact that the League City Rotary Club held a food-distribution event the same day, she said.
The club has partnered with the Galveston County Food Bank for close to four years to offer monthly food distributions. The one the club hosted Friday was an emergency distribution, similar to the one the group hosted right after Hurricane Harvey, said Amy Killgore, service projects chair for the club.
"We recognize in times of disaster, whether it's manmade or an act of God, that people are hungry," she said.
This emergency distribution differs from Harvey in several ways. For one, most businesses are still open in some way, whereas many shut down in the aftermath of Harvey, Killgore said.
Still, shelves are bare, and "people are hesitant to be out in public," Killgore said, which is why both the club and church conducted their food distributions as drive-thrus.
At both locations, families were able to drive up to receive their meals. This was new for the church, which typically has volunteers greet and talk to families receiving meals, Worthy said.
"This time we did it just drive-thru, which is harder because you don’t have the contact with the clients you normally have," Worthy said.
Worthy said the church's youth group showed up to help volunteer and give meals to families. She worries that the pandemic will get worse and eventually lead to mandates that restrict volunteering, which would have a negative effect on in-need families, she said.
"I worry about our clients if we can’t do it again," Worthy said. "I don’t think the community really understands how much need there is.”
Interfaith Caring Ministries is another local nonprofit that provides emergency rent, utilities assistance and food to families. Due to COVID-19, the nonprofit's retail shop has closed, and workers are operating remotely, according to an email from Director of Development Jessica Peterson.
"The demand for pantry essentials is critical for clients in need as they frantically search for various staple items, and necessary safety protocol has been implemented, including requesting the clients email their required documentation rather than bring in paper copies, wait in their vehicle and call to inform staff of food pantry donation pickup, and all client appointments are being conducted outside our office," Peterson wrote.
Interfaith Caring Ministries is seeking donations of crucial items, such as toilet paper, paper towels, diapers, wipes, pet food and more. Donations can be dropped off 9 a.m. to noon Monday through Thursday at the nonprofit's office at 151 Park Ave., League City, she wrote.
Meanwhile, Nelson has also seen a growing need among the homeless.
Family Promise of Clear Creek helps recently evicted families by offering them churches to stay at while they receive instruction on how to land a job and apply for jobs to become self-sufficient. There was a surge in evictions at the beginning of the pandemic, she said.
"From the families that are calling in, they are fearful that they’re gonna be left out in the cold ... during this pandemic," Nelson said. "The fear is spreading.”
As part of the program, adults go to job interviews. A few have been canceled at the last minute due to the coronavirus outbreak, which means the families cannot get a job, move into their own apartments and leave the program to allow another in-need family to join, Nelson said.
"What's concerning our current families right now is the job market," she said.
Additionally, professionals who partner with the nonprofit to teach and help transition these families have been canceling appointments due to the outbreak. Some churches that typically host families are opting instead to put them in hotels to increase social distancing, Nelson said.
As far as the nonprofit goes, fundraising has halted. Family Promise of Clear Creek has enough funds to operate for 10 months, but it depends on fundraising to operate long term, she said.
Despite the challenges, the nonprofit will continue to do what it can to help those in need, Nelson said.
"We’re gonna take care of them as long as they need to be in the program, and this is certainly unusual circumstances," she said.
This story was updated at 6 p.m. March 24 with information from Interfaith Caring Ministries.