The Houston Food Bank serves more than 1 million people in the 18 counties across the region, having provided Southeast Texas with more than 100 million meals last year.
The holiday season is the most critical time of year for the nonprofit, which sees a spike in food requests during November and December. So it’s the worst possible time for the bank’s supply to shrink, which is what happened two weeks ago.
Houston Food Bank employee Sabrina Bosiacki said a broken fan caused a leak in its ammonia refrigeration system Nov. 12, contaminating all of the produce the food bank had in stock as well as some dairy products and bulk grains. All told, the food bank had to dispose of 1.8 million pounds of food – 62 truckloads’ worth.
“It was so sad, right before Thanksgiving, that they lost all their food and had to throw it out,” Candlelight Estates resident Stephanie Koteras said.
Fortunately for the hungry in the Houston area, people like Koteras helped the food bank restock its supply in time for Thanksgiving. Last Saturday she brought a bag full of canned goods to Eleanora’s Market, located in the parking lot of Cavatore Italian Restaurant at 2120 Ella Blvd.
Eleanora’s Market, an artisan and farmers market that operates every Saturday from 9 a.m.-1 p.m., placed four cardboard boxes among its 40 or so vendor tents to allow visitors to donate nonperishable items to the food bank. The market also posted a sign telling visitors how they could make monetary donations through their phones.
Federico Cavatore, owner of the market and the restaurant where it is held, said he and market manager Amy Williams wanted to help at a time of need for the food bank. They already were exploring the possibility of becoming a regular collection site for the Houston Food Bank, an arrangement they intend to finalize by next year.
Grocery store chains H-E-B and Kroger also made large donations to the food bank after the ammonia leak. Bosiacki said United Airlines has pledged to match individual monetary donations.
“Thank God the big companies stepped up and did it,” Cavatore said. “If we can do something to help, as little as it might be in the grand scheme of things, every little bit helps. … So many families depend on these donations to celebrate the holiday.”
The Houston Food Bank distributes goods to about 1,500 partners in the region, including food pantries, soup kitchens, social service providers and schools. About a dozen of those partnering organizations are in the area, including the food pantries at Heights Interfaith Ministries, Ministries of the Near Northwest Alliance (MANNA) and St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church.
In an attempt to help those local organizations and the citizens they serve, along with the region at large, some of the vendors at Eleanora’s Market last Saturday made their own pledges. Third Born Ginger Beer, owned by Oak Forest resident Erin Simpson, donated $1 for every four-pack it sold.
OTM Blades donated $10 for every custom knife it sold and $1 for every knife it sharpened. About two hours into the market Saturday, owner Theresa Morris said she had sharpened 34 knives.
According to the food bank, it can provide access to three meals for every $1 donated.
“With everything that they do and everyone they help out in the Houston area,” Morris said, “it’s one of those things where it’s hard for us to stand by and not do something to help out.”