Within its first hour of meal distribution March 18, Magnolia-based Society of Samaritans served 200 people through its drive-thru food pantry, Executive Director Shirley Jensen said March 18. In the two days prior, SOS served 110 families, or 463 people, she said.
“Wherever you’re coming from, we’re here to help you. We’re not just taking existing clients. We’re doing a very minimal questionnaire ... for our reporting," Jensen said.
SOS operates its drive-thru food pantry Monday through Friday from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. at 31355 Friendship Drive, Magnolia, until further notice, she said. Community members can come once a week to get pantry staples, a box of produce, a bag of meat and a bag of snacks. According to the nonprofit's Facebook page March 24, SOS helped more than 2,120 individuals in the previous seven days compared with its usual intake of 700 individuals in seven days.
Amid coronavirus-related closures in the Greater Houston area, Jensen said the nonprofit is focused on helping seniors as well as students normally receiving free- and reduced-price lunches from Magnolia ISD get food. MISD campuses are closed until at least April 10; however, the district is also serving free curbside meals at three of its elementary schools while schools are closed.
While students are not in school, SOS has had to launch its Summer Snack Shack efforts early to ensure kids in high-need areas, such as the Hazy Hollow community, are fed, which dips into what SOS has stored away to distribute during the summer months.
"A lot of those kids don’t have the amenity of running water or electricity or things like that, so those children have specific needs, such as canned pasta and Pop-tarts—just something that they can eat by themselves if there’s not an adult there to warm it up or cook it," Assistant Director Becky Conner said. “That is a big need in the future we’re going to have if these kids are going to be out of school as long as they’re saying. ... It’s going to have a long-term effect on providing food throughout the summer.”
The SOS Resale Shop and Giving Center have also had to close due to a lack of volunteers and needing to follow recommended health guidelines during the coronavirus outbreak, Jensen said. The resale shop funds SOS' purchases of food from the Montgomery County Food Bank. Its closure means a loss of revenue for the nonprofit, Conner said.
"When we had to close the resale shop down, that’s going to be a financial burden for the ministry because those funds are in turn used to purchase that food," she said.
The lost revenue stream paired with greater community needs and the likely postponement of SOS' June fundraiser leaves SOS seeking financial donations to continue meeting needs in the community, Conner said.
However, SOS has received a matching gift of $25,000 from Glenn and Lorie Addison of Magnolia Funeral Home, meaning any donations given during this crisis will be matched up to $25,000, Conner said.
“We can make [the community's] dollar go further. When we buy food from the food bank, we can get a lot more for their dollar than their ability to do so in store," she said. "The match is a great opportunity to turn $25,000 that’s promised into $50,000 if we can just have the community ... rally behind that generous donation.”
Community members can donate by texting PARTNER2020 to 44321, visiting the organization's website or calling 281-259-8452. Jensen said volunteers are also needed to distribute food, as 95% of SOS' regular volunteers are over age 65 and considered to be within the vulnerable population during the coronavirus outbreak.
“Time and time again [the community has] stepped up," Conner said. "The need is so great right now, and we don’t know what we’re looking at.”
Seniors needing food delivered can call 281-259-8452, and emergency financial services for help with rent, mortgage and utilities is available remotely, Jensen said. To ensure social distancing while also being able to provide help, SOS is working with clients via phone call, email and online processes, she said.
“We’re here for whatever the needs are going to be. We’re flexible; we’ll adjust to it," Jensen said. "Whatever they need, give us a call, and if we don’t have it, we’ll find out who does.”
Tomball Emergency Assistance Ministries
Tomball Emergency Assistance Ministries is similarly feeling the strain, Executive Director Barry Hart said in a March 18 interview. With several volunteers no longer able to help, Hart said the nonprofit organization is working with a skeleton crew.
With few volunteers, Hart said the nonprofit began focusing solely on food assistance, temporarily suspending its financial assistance services March 19.
“The vast majority of folks that came by were needing food, not other help—our hope, of course, being that landlords and utility companies will offer a grace period to folks during this time giving them a little bit more leeway if they’re not able to make their payments right away," he said.
Hart said the nonprofit is providing more than its usual provisions to families during this time, knowing that children are out of school and family members could fall ill and be unable to return for food assistance.
Food assistance is available from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays with food donations needed as well. According to a March 22 post on the organization's Facebook page, nonperishable food donations will be received Wednesdays and Fridays from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. at the double doors marked "food donations" in the alley behind the TEAM building.
While food assistance continues, TEAM's resale shop at 300 W. Main St. closed March 19, and the nonprofit's annual fundraiser March 20 was canceled.
“[Resale revenues] go to paying all of our bills, pay for the facility, insurance, utilities, the few salaries that we pay. Of course, as those revenues have declined, that’s going to be a challenge for us as well. Financial donations as well to pick up the gap are going to be important," Hart said.
He said TEAM estimates its fundraiser goal of $75,000 represents 15% of its client assistance budget. Although the fundraiser's underwriters—Bob and Cathie Baldwin, HCA Houston Healthcare Tomball, H-E-B, Honda of Tomball, Ken's Auto Repair and Resale with a Purpose—allowed TEAM to retain its contributing donations, Hart said funding needs persist for the nonprofit. Community members can donate online or send a check by mail.
“I think at this point we’re still trying to gauge what the needs are going to be in this unusual circumstance and how many requests we’re going to have. We don’t have a good handle on that yet because it’s still early in the crisis mode," Hart said March 18.