By Christina Autry

Safety and community engagement remain among our top priorities in the East Aldine District as we navigate the COVID-19 crisis. We have seen the community rally together in a big way, from the actions taken by our partners in the Town Center development, to the dedication of our local police officers, to neighbors caring for those in need.

“The Harris County Sheriff’s Office and the Houston Police Department are doing a lot of community work in addition to their typical duties,” says Brian Burks, Deputy Executive Director of the East Aldine District. The officers have assisted in the many relief fairs held by churches and non-profits in response to the pandemic. Although this is something that officers typically engage in during emergencies such as hurricanes, few comparisons can be made to the current situation.

“Every day our officers go home to their families and wonder if they’ve been in contact with someone with COVID,” says Burks. “They have to be in contact with people. They’re concerned about it. Where they’re able to take calls by telephone, they do that, but otherwise it’s difficult to avoid close proximity.” Despite the risk, these officers continue to go above and beyond in serving our community.

Before the HCSO was able to secure their own steady supply of protective materials, the East Aldine District connected them with a donation of 4,400 masks, 3,000 gloves, and dozens of 64 oz. hand sanitizer bottles from Beauty Depot in Southwest Houston. This helped to fill the gap before supplies became readily available several weeks later.

“Our officers are not patrolling to find individuals who are not wearing masks,” says Burks. “That is something that people must voluntarily do to keep themselves safe; it cannot be enforced.” Staying six feet away from others, and washing hands are messages that continue to be relevant as we head into our third month of COVID-19 in Houston.

One of the major community service efforts that HCSO and HPD have provided security for is the “Drive-Thru Food Fair” hosted by Baker-Ripley. Bags of fresh food and nonperishables from the Houston Food Bank are distributed to families who drive through the Lone Star College parking lot.

With four miles of cars lined up and 740 vehicles receiving food at the April 22nd fair, police officers have provided a critical role in traffic control and flow, as well as preventing cars from cutting in line.

On the May 6th event in East Aldine, State Rep Armando Walle, Senator Carol Alvarado, Congresswoman Sylvia Garcia donated masks to families, which were included in the food bags.

Volunteers use a no-contact approach for placing bags in car trunks, and are supplied with plenty of hand sanitizer for themselves. Gustavo Gonzalez has coordinated care, amenities and logistics for volunteers.

“With the high level of unemployment, there are a lot of people in need of food,” says Veronica Sanches, Director of Services in the East Aldine District. Starting in April, Sanches and Nataly Perez, District Assistant, have served as volunteers during these food distribution events. “All of our Town Center partners have participated in the event in some way, from volunteering to traffic control, to opening up parking lots,” says Perez.

“Baker Ripley is a great organization, and very professional in everything that they do,” says Sanchez. “I don’t think anybody does it better. We love having them in the community.” Prior to COVID, the non-profit organized one food drive per month, but has now increased to twice per month, and is held at five different Baker-Ripley campuses in Houston. The calendar of upcoming events can be found on the Baker-Ripley website.

Not all safety measures taken in the district recently have dealt with COVID-related issues. “Feral hogs are a chronic problem in many urban centers in the U. S., including Houston and Harris County,” says Burks. “The hogs traverse hundreds of miles, following rivers and bayous, that they use as ‘hog highways.’ They gather in parks, undeveloped properties and neighborhoods.”

According to Texas Parks & Wildlife, “Their razor-sharp tusks combined with their lightning speed can cause serious injury.” So when the East Aldine District got a call from the HCSO emergency dispatch that feral hogs were running through the Town Center property, they knew this was an issue that needed to be dealt with quickly.

Houston Hog Hunters, a public service organization which catches feral hogs, was called to remove the animals from the neighboring Keith-Weiss Park. Thirty hogs were caught, including one weighing 360 pounds, and there are about six more adults with babies that still need to be captured.

We are extremely grateful for all of the individuals and organizations that work together to keep our community safe. We want all of our residents in East Aldine to feel free to contact the district offices or police departments with any questions or concerns that you may have. Together, we will continue to stay strong.