Houston nonprofits brace for potential extended effects of coronavirus

Christian Community Service Center
The Christian Community Service Center is seeing increased demand for its food pantry services as the coronavirus outbreak has reached working families. (Courtesy Christian Community Service Center)

The Christian Community Service Center is seeing increased demand for its food pantry services as the coronavirus outbreak has reached working families. (Courtesy Christian Community Service Center)

At least one nonprofit is seeing an uptick in requests for help, and others are reaching out to the community for donations and support as they brace for uncertainty arising from the outbreak of the coronavirus and its effect on schools and government services.

"We consider ourselves as first responders for hunger, and we already have people calling us whose hours have been cut," said Michelle Shonbeck, executive director for the Christian Community Service Center, a coalition of 40 area churches that serves the poor—children, in particular.

The CCSC typically serves about over 10,000 people a year with basic services and another 10,000 children. Its programs also include monetary assistance to help pay rent, for example, when a working parent loses their income.

“The need is already increasing. People who have never been to CCSC’s food pantries are coming for help," said Nolonda Jones, manager of CCSC’s Emergency Services-Central Program. "The community’s help is what will get us all through this.”

Shonbeck, who has been with the organization for 27 years, said the effect of coronavirus is unlike a hurricane in that it may last much longer and affect the economy in different ways.

"In that way, it's more like how it was with Tropical Storm Allison, the Enron scandal and 9/11," she said. "This pandemic has jolted our economy, and we expect to see a significant increase in the people coming to us."

Meanwhile, Interfaith Ministries activated a food program March 13 it normally uses ahead of hurricane season in May and June.

"Today, we were able to deliver 1,900-2,000 meals. Next week, we will continue deliveries," said Ali Al Sudani, chief programs officer for the nonprofit.

Its Operation IMpact program delivers shelf-stable meals that require no refrigeration to over 4,300 seniors via its Meals on Wheels program. Because the program was launched early, Interfaith needs additional support from volunteers as well as monetary donations, which are being matched dollar for dollar. IM will also continue to make regular meal deliveries and is following CDC guidance.

"We will continue to monitor the situation and, if necessary, send another wave of shelf-stable meals. Or we might not; that remains to be seen," Sudani said.

For children, the nonprofit Kid's Meals Inc. is also asking for volunteers and donors to help cover the gap from lack of access to school districts' free and reduced lunch programs.

"Over spring break alone, we will share more than 30,500 meals, and we need the support of this incredible city to make sure we are feeding as many children as possible," the organization wrote in a blog post. "The majority of children in Houston ISD qualify for free/reduced meals, so when school is not in session their main food source is gone."

The Houston Food Bank has also called for volunteers to assist with preparing meal boxes to assist people who may end up in quarantine because of exposure to coronavirus.


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