By Christina Autry
BakerRipley has responded to the Covid-19 pandemic by doubling their monthly food fairs at campuses around Houston, including East Aldine’s Town Center location. During the month of April, the non-profit provided essential food items and supplies to about 4,500 families in the Bayou City. They plan to serve the Aldine campus every other Wednesday through the month of August, and continue if needed.
Community Developer Jometra Hawkins has been working behind the scenes to coordinate donations from the Houston Food Bank and other donors, all of which go straight to Aldine families. “Program Coordinator Rocio Wittie work with a team of six people, who create our strategy, and map out the pieces that need to be in place,” says Hawkins.
“Families depend on this food,” says Hawkins. “A lot of people are without jobs right now, and money is scarce. We want to provide enough food for them to eat for a couple weeks at a time, which is how long our supplies last.”
Normally, families attending the food fairs would be allowed into the facility to pick out the items in a shopping-style setup. However, with social distancing measures in place, Hawkins and the BakerRipley team had to develop an entirely new system for getting families what they need.
“Houston Food Bank trucks arrive at about 7:30AM,” begins Hawkins. “Volunteers unload the truck and package the bags. We have people walking down the line of cars, asking how many people are in their household. We write the number on the back of their car, so that our volunteers at the front know how many bags to distribute. When cars pull up, we put the bags in their trunk or backseat to avoid contact.”
Rosalva Hernandez, who Hawkins says is “normally our food fair guru,” is serving as Volunteer Coordinator, and managing the “day-of” logistics. Her leadership has been crucial as the number of families participating in Aldine’s food fair has increased from about 300 families to around 800.
Captains are designated for each step of the process, from packing bags, to crowd control, to logistics. Hard-working volunteers assist each captain at designated stations. The Harris County Sherriff’s Office has played an important role in traffic control, preventing cars from cutting in line and maintaining the flow of traffic on streets surrounding Town Center.
Bagged food items vary from week to week, but fresh produce is always included. Other common items include milk, juice, and bread. Now that household products can be difficult to find or purchase, BakerRipley is encouraging donors to include commodities such as hand sanitizer, cleaning and hygiene products. “We recently received a donation of toilet paper which we then added to our bags,” says Hawkins. On the May 6th event, State Rep Armando Walle, Senator Carol Alvarado, Congresswoman Sylvia Garcia donated masks, which were included in the food bags.
Many organizations and individuals contribute from week to week, and the Town Center partners have remained fundamental to the event. Lone Star College and Avalos P-Tech High School have opened their parking lots to host the food fair, and have provided volunteers. Hope Clinic performs temperature checks for all volunteers and staff, and has set up a sanitizer station at the entrance.
“East Aldine District leadership has been amazing in helping us coordinate with our Town Center partners,” says Hawkins. “Richard Cantu, Veronica Sanches, and Nataly Perez have provided outstanding help in getting things together.” Gustavo Gonzalez has dedicated time and resources to ensuring volunteers are given access to necessary amenities during their shift.
With a brand-new method of conducting the food fairs come new needs as well. “We are reaching out to partners to donate recyclable grocery bags. Partners are welcome to include their logo on the bags,” says Harris. “We are always looking for more partners, volunteers, and distribution items. BakerRipley is a non-profit which runs on public donations.”
Approximately 50 volunteers are needed for each food fair to run smoothly. With the critical task of unloading trucks and packing bags requiring a good amount of manual labor, BakerRipley appreciates every volunteer that comes out. Those wanting to donate time to this effort can visit the “volunteer opportunities” page on bakerripley.org.
3000 Aldine Mail Route Rd., Houston, TX 77039