AUSTIN (KXAN) — Two Austin community groups are joining together to create and implement a food delivery program for the homeless.
The Central Texas Food Bank and The Other Ones Foundation have created Eating Apart Together, a coordinated food delivery designed for people experiencing homelessness.
“With social distancing, people aren’t sharing food or money out in the community or on street corners,” said David Gomez, program manager for Homeless Services at Integral Care. “Many of the food pantries have closed. And, for those with money, the stores they go to have limited supplies. Now more than ever, it’s important that we make sure our neighbors experiencing homelessness have enough food.”
The new program started April 9 when the Central Texas Food Bank donated self-stable, easy-to-open food to the city, and Austin Convention Center staff packed 1,000 bags to be delivered to encampments outside the urban core. They contain food like nuts, dried fruits and vegetables, peanut butter, tortillas, cured meat and tuna.
The bags also contain health, hygiene and educational materials. The Other Ones Foundation led the delivery coordination.
The city also developed a contract to provide 1,000 refrigerated, ready-to-eat meals per day for homeless people in the urban core, who usually rely on soup kitchens. The meals will be added to the supply served through existing programs at Central Presbyterian, Angel House, Sunrise Homeless Navigation Center and Mobile Loaves and Fishes.
“We were happy to partner to the city to be the bridge to help get them through,” said Derrick Chubbs, President & CEO of Central Texas Food Bank.
So far, Central Texas Food Bank has committed to supply this food for six weeks. Chubbs, President & CEO of CTFB, said he has no idea if his organization can continue making these donations after that point,
“We aren’t dictating the pace,” Chubbs explained, “if food isn’t plentiful or readily available, then we may not.”
How the idea began
The Other Ones Foundation typically provides low-barrier employment opportunities for those experiencing homelessness.
But Max Moscoe, the community engagement coordinator for The Other Ones Foundation, explained that with the COVID-19 pandemic led to business shutdowns and social distancing measures, his organization started noticing that people experiencing homelessness were having different needs.
They started a mobile hygiene clinic, dubbed the “Box of Rain,” to provide showers, toilets, hygiene supplies, clothing and food to those who needed it. It’s run by people experiencing homelessness.
“We’re just kind of redirecting to meet the humanitarian need right now,” Moscoe said. “As we were doing that, we heard that a lot of the food pantries were either running at a reduced capacity or slowing down. Or stopping completely — and that the biggest need in the community that we serve suddenly was food.”
He also heard concerns and frustrations from the community about the outbreak and being able to stay safe, especially since usual methods of distribution involve people congregating to receive services.
“Rather than asking people to come every day or every meal to get food, we realized that the best way that we can offer people an option to stay safe during this time is to actually offer non-perishable goods,” Moscoe said, which gave them an option to shelter in place.
The Other Ones Foundation realized they couldn’t do it alone. They reached out to the city of Austin, who in turn reached out to Central Texas Food Bank to carry out these deliveries.
“One of the challenges associated with distributing food to the homeless, is it really needs to be ready to eat,” explained Derrick Chubbs with CTFB. “We have limited inventory.”
While this past week, CTFB had the inventory to supply the homeless with ready-to-eat items (tuna, beef stew, lasagna), this week there will be more ready-to-go items (peanut butter, protein bars, soup) canned items, Chubbs explained. The City of Austin will be providing can openers to people experiencing homelessness.
Chubbs explained that his team will be dropping off this food Thursdays at 7 a.m. at the Austin Convention Center where city employees will get the food ready to hand out. He believes around 80% of the bags will be delivered to encampments and around 20% will be delivered people sleeping on the streets downtown.
The first deliveries as part of this group effort went out last week, they passed out 290 bags with a week’s worth of provisions last week.
The Other Ones Foundation knows there are many mouths to feed, while the 2019 Point in Time Count estimated the city’s homeless population at 2,255 and the number of people entered in the coordinated assessment system has been reported to be around 7,000.
“In an ideal world, having 7,000 bags of groceries distributed across the city would be the best option,” Moscoe said. “That’s a huge lift. And I don’t know that we’ll get there, but we’re just going to do as much as we can.”