Long before the sun rises in the morning, area residents are lining up their cars on Rogerdale Road and Meadowglen Lane. They have come to West Houston Assistance Ministries (WHAM) to have their vehicle trunks filled with food and supplies to get them through another week.
WHAM’s Executive Director Mark Brown can recite the daily statistics on how many families were served and how long they were able to work before supplies ran out. He reports the daily results on Facebook and on his blog – revmarkbrown.com. On a recent day, he tallied a record number of 439 cars, which adds up to 2,073 individuals who were served with food in less than four hours.
“We give out a lot of food; much, much more than other places,” said Brown. “We also provide water and other supplies like pet food and diapers. We even give out toys and masks. So naturally, this takes longer to get into each car.”
Brown’s team consists of approximately 10 staff and 10 furloughed restaurant workers (who were paid by a grant for a total of 10 weeks), plus eight National Guard personnel. Another 50 volunteers rotate through the ranks. “We have a core group each day, then a rotation of various volunteers throughout the week,” said Brown.
The process has evolved under Brown’s leadership as needs have evolved. “I saw the pandemic coming,” said Brown, “In the beginning, I spent each morning researching the situation. It was – and remains – important to me to not react, but to be prepared to meet the need when it comes.”
Grants continue to come in to help with rent and utilities. WHAM received $573,000 from the Greater Houston CCOVID-19 Recovery Fund, $15,000 from Christ the Servant Lutheran Church and $5,000 from CenterPoint Energy. Thanks to these and other grants, WHAM provided around $8,000 a day in financial assistance for rent and utilities.
As of the end of May, WHAM had helped more than 41,000 individuals in just nine weeks with the number now at more than 68,504.
Friends serving friends
Friends of Westchase was formed in early 2019 to help address concerns in under-resourced communities. It is operating out of donated space at Grace Presbyterian Church. Executive Director Nancy Bailey was busy organizing ESL classes and mentoring programs at Paul Revere Middle School and Walnut Bend Elementary School when COVID-10 forced both schools to close. Bailey’s operation quickly pivoted as well. “We stayed in contact with our local partners to see how we can support them. Two big opportunities emerged,” said Bailey.
Friends of Westchase partnered with 3 The Harden Way (James Harden’s community foundation) to host The Harden Way’s weekly food distribution at Grace Church. “Friends of Westchase recruited volunteers from the community, while Grace staff managed the logistics. Through our six weekly food distributions, we helped feed more than 600 members of the community,” said Bailey.
A second opportunity benefited an existing Friends of Westchase partner. “We learned that teachers at local schools were struggling to get students to login to the online learning courses and that food insecurity had increased,” said Bailey. “We partnered with MOD Pizza to donate a hot, delicious pizza to students who were nominated by their teachers for working hard in their online classes. Over six weeks, volunteers delivered pizzas to 100 students.”
Created for this
The Westchase District Community Fund (WDCF), which was created in 2010 to respond to situations exactly like this, also jumped in to help. In mid-March, they contributed $2,000 to WHAM, which represented some of the proceeds of Westchase District’s cancelled Corporate Challenge. Additional contributions to the WDCF allowed the organization to donate another $20,000 to WHAM.
“The two things WHAM needs during this crisis are money and volunteers,” said Craig Eichhorn, chairman of the WDCF. “Westchase District staff also volunteered at WHAM’s food distribution one morning and recruited other volunteers to the effort. It’s very gratifying to be able to bring attention to the needs in the community and see our community respond with generosity.”
Even as the calendar turns from May to June to July to August and many people return to work, the Westchase District’s nonprofit community continues to serve those in need.