Austin (KXAN) — As many people find ways to re-purpose the tools they already have during the coronavirus pandemic, distilleries are making hand sanitizer, furniture stores are making medical masks, and Austin area politicians are transforming campaign tools to bring food to seniors or those who may not be able to leave their homes.
In mid-March, Texas State Representative John Bucy (D-Cedar Park) launched the Neighbor-to-Neighbor Senior Wellness & Food Delivery program: teaming up on the effort with other north Austin and Williamson County politicians including Austin City Council Member Jimmy Flannigan, Cedar Park Mayor Pro Tem Mel Kirkland, and City Park City Council Member Anne Duffy.
Rep. Bucy explained that this all began through a phone call from Council Member Flannigan “with the idea that we needed to start reaching out to our seniors and our neighbors just to see how they were doing.”
These politicians are coordinating all of the volunteer delivery efforts for Hill Country Community Ministries, a nonprofit which distributes food to ten zip codes in Western Williamson and Northwest Travis Counties.
“We just asked [Hill Country Community Ministries], if we started reaching out to seniors, would they have the capacity?” Bucy recalled. “And they were very excited, they’ve been very helpful in making sure that people that need food in our community get it.”
They started off by running through voter registration databases to find people over the age of 60 who likely live alone. One of the more than 150 volunteers will call each of those people to check in and see how they’re doing. If that person is interested, the volunteer team will coordinate a food delivery.
Bucy explained that these deliveries happen on Tuesdays and Thursdays, supplying households with enough food to last the week.
“One of the things that we can do and one of the things that we always have to do is communications. So we worked together to develop this program,” explained Council Member Jimmy Flannigan, whose district covers northwest Austin. “And thanks to Representative Bucy for taking on the logistics in his State House office.”
“We’re using all of the same kind of tools and techniques one would do for a campaign: using phone banks, getting lists of voters, and using that instead to check on folks to make sure that they have all the information they need,” Flannigan explained. “And if they have specific needs like food, we’re helping deliver food through Hill Country Community Ministries.”
“It’s been amazing, it’s not just Councilman Flannigan and I, it’s not just Democrats, we’re seeing [support] across the board,” Bucy said.
He pointed out that Council Memeber Duffy and Mayor Pro Tem Kirkland are on “opposite sides of the aisle” but have come together to work on this effort.
“The point is, that doesn’t matter right now, we’re all just trying to work to help our neighbors,” Bucy said.
Tiesa Hollaway, the executive director of Hill Country Community Ministries, explained that while their food pantry is physically located in Leander, that in order to stay in compliance with social distancing guidelines, HCCM is instead relying on several mobile locations throughout the area which people can drive through.
For people who can’t do a drive-through, HCCM already had a delivery program that usually averages between 15 to 20 deliveries per month. But at the end of the month of March, HCCM completed 47 deliveries. Tiesa said those deliveries were carried out with the help of these local politicians.
“Not only are they doing [deliveries to] the seniors, but they are also helping us with those families who are homebound or may not have a vehicle” she said. “Because they now have a database and are able to do that.”
The volunteers coordinated by the politicians go to the HCCM food pantry and package up the deliveries for each household that needs them.
“The delivery is a huge help,” Hollaway said.
“We’re getting a lot of messages saying ‘Thank you so much’ and ‘It’s a huge help to get food and groceries for our families,” she continued.
Bucy’s office said the first food delivery happened on March 27 and the volunteers have continued to expand their outreach ever since.
If you would like to receive these deliveries or if you know of someone who would benefit from them, go to this link or contact Bucy’s District Office at (512) 259-1478 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you want to sign up to volunteer for this program, you can go here.
HCCM explained that it is not taking food donations right now because the Central Texas Food Bank has certain cleaning standards food has to adhere to, but HCCM is accepting monetary donations here.