Charitable Giving

Here's How Houstonians Helped Each Other This Year

Our readers tell their stories.

Edited by Catherine Wendlandt December 9, 2020 Published in the December 2020 issue of Houstonia Magazine

Image: Amy Kinkead

Dinner's on Us

I’ve worked with Second Servings for several years. After every stint, I’d wobble home, physically pooped but emotionally re-fueled because we’d closed one small loop rescuing excess food for same-day delivery to nonprofits who feed hungry Houstonians. 

We‘d saved some landfill space. We’d reduced some food waste. We’d helped feed many mouths. It was always a good day, though I knew the work was never done!

As the early days of the pandemic wore on, our Second Servings mission had suddenly become even more critical. And then I got the heartening news—the Second Servings team had devised a plan to provide hearty, chef-prepared, family-sized meals directly to the public. They teamed up with Sysco and Hess, purchased food for the first time in the organization's history and “Dinner’s On Us” was launched: a drive-through, socially distanced, safe meal distribution that took place bi-weekly throughout May. Alongside long-time SSH volunteers, I happily worked each event that took place.

As the weeks rolled on, I began to recognize and care deeply about “regulars” like “Bug Lady,” who always picked up her meals in a red Volkswagen. There was the pizza-delivery guy who pedaled through on his bike and rode off with a grateful smile. The van-full who showed up each time to pick up meals for hospital workers. The grouchy older guy with the white ponytail who didn’t want to wear a mask but eventually came around. Even a hotel chef who was temporarily furloughed chose to volunteer alongside the SSH crew rather than sit idly by. And the kind Irma’s Southwest crew who brought us thirst-quenching lemonade as the heat kicked in. Each of these people—and so many more—made an indelible stamp on my heart.  I’ll never know their stories but their mere presence in our drive-through spoke volumes. I ached for them. I don’t know their names. But I’ll never forget their spirit. —Jennifer Greenberg 

Dancing for Hope

Our dance program, River Oaks Dance, has about 300 students that were set to perform in their annual ballet recital this May at MATCH theater. However, with the pandemic, we had to cancel their performances. Lots of disappointed kids and parents, but we were able to turn this into something positive for so many underserved kids. In lieu of a refund for tickets which they had already purchased, families had the option to donate those proceeds to Hope Stone and their Hope Project, where they work to “bring art to all.” With those ticket sales we were able to donate $5,000 to Hope Stone. Just a $10 ticket from our students turned into a wonderful donation so The Hope Project could continue reaching kids in Title V schools with their arts-based classes!  It was really touching to have such an outpouring of support from our students and families! —Sara Carbo

Open Arms

The Blue Star Moms Houston-area chapter truly makes a difference in everyday lives of active duty military, veterans, and their families. With both of my sons now enlisted in the military and me experiencing an empty nest lifestyle, BSMHC not only welcomed me with open arms to a wonderfully encouraging group but also continually gives inspiration and purpose to support those who sacrifice so very much. You see, as a fifth-generation veteran and now my children taking on their duty as the sixth generation, I needed a place that truly understood my desire to make a difference in someone’s life.

To live a military lifestyle is quite difficult and very demanding but I believe more so as that most do not see an active duty member as an individual. This group makes sure that every individual is seen for themselves, supported in a way that rejuvenates their personal purpose, and gives them the reassurance needed to carry on with their duties of putting others before themselves. To be surrounded by such an inspirational & highly motivated group, empowers me to be more actively involved in giving back to those in such need of love, encouragement, and support. The BlueStarMoms Houston Area Chapter isn’t just a charity group, they are a family that makes a difference. —Heather Herlong

It's a Fancy-ful Life

Working for a nonprofit can be challenging. Indeed, working for a performing arts nonprofit even more so right now. To keep my spirits positive, I volunteer as a foster with Friends for Life. My latest foster, Fancy, has been my sanity through this pandemic. She was instrumental in keeping the spirits of my staff up as well. One could say I saved her to save us.

Fancy is a sassy little girl with a big personality. She does what she wants and might let you tag along for the ride. She has kept every one of us on our toes and has offered comfort in her cuddle purrs. With Fancy leading the charge, every day is an adventure. She is still searching for her forever family, but until then my world is Fancy-ful. —Christina Martinez

Image: John Day

The Essential Things

I had been furloughed from work and was really down on myself. I kept asking why I didn’t get to continue working. Was I not essential enough? Is what I do really important? Then a friend from work invited me to volunteer with her at Kids' Meals. I’d already worked with Kids' Meals through work and knew what they were about. What I didn’t know was how that one day would change me! We volunteered and listened about how the need to feed Houston’s food-insecure children had exploded with Covid-19. I asked to come back next week, and two days the next week turned into almost 40 hours a week after that, if I was not on-site volunteering, then I was home on social media getting donations for either money or protein (our most needed item at that time). I worked in the warehouse and helped to organize operations as well as streamline processes.

This was my passion and strength from working on operations, so I really enjoyed getting to share my experience and knowledge. I also got to volunteer and work alongside some of the most amazing and inspirational people I had ever met. I needed a purpose and direction while on unemployment; I had never been unemployed. If I was going to get money, I was not just going to sit around at home.

I constantly got feedback from the staff at Kids' Meals that I was a blessing and savior during this time. What they didn’t know is, they saved me! I have been changed, changed for the better. Kids' Meals and the team there will always hold a special place in my heart. I still go volunteer when I can, I still drum up donations. I still talk to them and share ideas for streamlining. In short, they are not getting rid of me easily.

Anyone who doesn’t think they have the time or the ability to help, you are wrong!  It doesn’t have to be time on site, it doesn’t have to be money, it just has to be support. And I like to think of it this way: Our future president could be sitting at home right now wondering, when will I eat again? There’s a lot we can’t control, but we can do something about that. —John Day 

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