Houston ISD started serving food again on Monday, after its distribution program took a hiatus of nearly two weeks. The Houston Parks and Recreation Department also has been providing free food to families during the COVID-19 pandemic, with 10 locations in or near the area.
There now is another resource for Northwest Houston residents who need sustenance – their local YMCA.
The Harriet and Joe Foster Family YMCA, located at 1234 W. 34th St., began distributing free produce to the community on Thursday and will continue to do so twice per week until May. Its fruit and vegetable distribution events, in a partnership with the Houston Food Bank and Houston-based nonprofit Brighter Bites, are scheduled for 11 a.m.-3 p.m. every Monday and Thursday through May 4.
“Other agencies are providing a similar service, but the need continues to grow,” said Sarah Grai, executive director of the local YMCA. “We just want to be able to be there to support that need.”
The initiative is part of a larger effort by the YMCA of Greater Houston, which has set up 15 distribution sites throughout the region. Since the program started March 9, the YMCA said it has served about 17,500 individuals and 4,500 families.
HISD, which suspended its district-wide program March 25 after it was discovered that someone at a distribution site might have been exposed to COVID-19, relaunched the program Monday at 22 locations, including on Thursdays at Frank Black Middle School at 1575 Chantilly Ln. The city’s parks and recreation department has weekday distribution events at 50 locations, including at Candlelight Park Community Center, Highland Park Community Center, Independence Heights Community Center, Love Community Center and Stude Park Community Center.
At the YMCA on 34th Street, residents of any age can receive 30 pounds of produce, which will be distributed in a drive-through format in order to practice social distancing. Grai said those who drive to the site will be asked two questions – the zip code in which they reside and the number of people in their family – before having the produce placed in the trunk of their vehicle.
“While the Foster YMCA may be closed, the hearts of our staff, like Sarah Grai, remain open to continue to be here for our community,” said Marie Arcos, the vice president of governmental and community affairs for the YMCA of Greater Houston.
Grai said the produce distribution is an extension of sorts of the local YMCA’s community outreach in Northwest Houston. It operates a year-round food pantry and after-school program at Casa Grande Apartments, located at 5700 Thousand Oaks Circle.
But those services are suspended because of the local outbreak of COVID-19, the upper-respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus strain. As of late Tuesday, there had been more than 2,100 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Houston and Harris County, along with 23 deaths caused by the disease.
The elderly are at the highest risk of developing serious complications from COVID-19, and that also is the most-served group by the local YMCA. Grai said about a third of its members are seniors.
Those seniors are eligible to receive free produce at the YMCA. So are younger adults and children.
“It’s a broad range of audiences that I think will show up and utilize the service,” Grai said. “This is open to the entire community. NO restrictions.”