Many area grocery stores have faced shortages because of hoarding.

In the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, the last thing anyone wants is for Houston’s most vulnerable populations—students who depend on school lunches, laid-off workers, the elderly, the homeless, and others—to go hungry. But while the city's charitable organizations are stepping up, they are also facing enormous challenges.

By mid-March the lines at the Houston Food Bank had already exceeded those that followed Harvey, according to Brian Greene, the organization’s president and CEO. “The magnitude of what we were dealing with shifted almost overnight,” he tells Houstonia.

Of course, even in the worst of times, Houstonians can be counted on to assist one another. “The people of Houston have remarkable resilience,” says Martin Cominsky, president and CEO of Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston, which runs the largest Meals on Wheels program in Texas. “My work is inspired daily by the way Houstonians step up to help whenever there is a need. I cannot imagine a more generous community than ours.”

Want to contribute? Of course you do. Here are three ways you can help food-insecure Houstonians in this time of need:

Give time

The largest resource of its kind in the country, the Houston Food Bank feeds 800,000 people each year, with help from 1,500 community partners and approximately 85,000 volunteers. While as of press time the organization has limited the number of volunteers per shift in accordance with pandemic-specific health regulations, organizers are still looking for extra hands. You can sign up for a three- or four-hour shift online.

If that’s not an option, Greene recommends checking in on your neighbors, especially those with limited mobility, and running errands for them. Or sign up with Houston-based online disaster-response resource Crowd-Source Rescue, whose volunteers make no-contact food deliveries.

Donate

All nonprofits are seeing an uptick in clients seeking assistance, which means they’re going to need every penny they can get, so consider giving money.

Because of the pandemic, Interfaith, for example, has had to adapt its Meals on Wheels program, which delivers 4,300 meals a day during normal times, for a socially distanced world. As of press time, instead of bringing clients a daily hot meal, staffers have switched to a weekly-delivery model, providing multiple fresh-frozen and shelf-stable meals at once. However, these changes—in what Interfaith delivers, and how it’s distributed—have led to unexpected expenses that need covering.

Interfaith does take food donations, by the way, for pets. The nonprofit, which assists 1,300-plus four-legged friends through its Animeals program, always needs pet chow, Cominsky says. “Especially wet cat food. Don’t forget the cats.”

Quit panic-shopping

Houston Food Bank’s edible resources come from the billions of pounds of surplus food America produces every year, all of which is donated from all levels in the supply chain. Covid-19 has not broken that chain, Greene notes, but increased consumer demand has led to a smaller surplus, and therefore less availability of the nutritionally balanced, shelf-stable ingredients organizations need. When consumers buy up the entire pasta aisle, there’s less food for those in need. And as Greene explains, that is unnecessary.

“The food companies are going to stay in operation,” he says.“There’s nothing that warrants what people are doing; they’re just making life harder.” So, yeah, stop with the hoarding, y’all. We know you really don’t want to eat 32 cans of beans.