Q&A: Pandemic deals Cy-Fair Helping Hands tough blow

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David Taylor, Staff writer
Sep. 12, 2020Updated: Sep. 12, 2020 8:54 a.m.

They only want to serve the public and are described by some as the dynamic duo. Pat Hudson and Jean Dryer lead the effort at Helping Hands in CyFair and are happy to be back in the middle of their ministry—serving, leading. For a few days, though, the team at the nonprofit was sidelined while they fought through their own battles with the coronavirus.

Here’s how they are dealing with the fluctuating finances, increase in demand for services, and staying safe themselves from the coronavirus. The answers are from both Hudson, executive director of community outreach and Dreyer, founder and executive director of homeless initiatives.

Q: When did you shut down, then reopen, and did closing affect the number of volunteers you were able to secure?

A: A faith-based ministry, CFHH is run entirely by volunteers, most of whom were of retirement age. Due to age, health issues, and childcare responsibilities, the Coronavirus pandemic has forced many of our volunteers to remain at home. When a pantry volunteer tested positive for the Coronavirus in early June, we shut down and had all key volunteers tested. Thankfully, all tested negative, and the pantry reopened the following week, shutting down for no more than three days of normal operation. The volunteer in question returned after receiving two negative test results. Despite these issues, the Food Pantry has maintained regular days and hours of operation on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and the 1st and 3rd Saturdays of each month, 9:30 a.m. — 12:30 p.m.

Q: What kind of new procedures did you have to change for your clients and staff? Handling the food? Mask orders?

A: We have taken appropriate precautions to keep everyone safe by screening and taking temperatures of all volunteers entering the office and pantry. We are sanitizing everything with bleach solution daily, donning gloves and masks, and practicing social distancing. We have modified our distribution of food through a curbside drive through. Client registration is completed through a mobile application that was modified to provide all the needed information and is collected via laptop and tablets. Once registered, clients are instructed to remain in their cars and pop their trunks, as volunteers place boxes of non-perishables dairy, bakery goods, produce, meat, and prepared foods into their cars. Since the Stay Home directive was passed, we have seen an exponential increase, some days as many as quadruple the number of clients we normally see. On two consecutive days, a record number 88 cars lined up outside our door, with many new seniors, single parents with children, and clients seeking food to feed themselves and their families. Prior to the pandemic, we were serving very few Vietnamese families. Those numbers have changed substantially, with the majority speaking only Vietnamese. Bilingual volunteers are needed to assist with both Vietnamese and Hispanic clients. The phone does not stop ringing, as those in need anxiously ask for assistance. In the month of August, our community food pantry served 951 households, for a total of nearly 5,000 individuals served. (This is especially noteworthy, as in the months of January and February, 2020, prior to Covid-19, we were serving 300-350 households monthly).

Q: Did the pandemic affect your donations or services?

A: The coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent emotional and economic backlash has most decidedly affected our efforts to serve the needy in our community. As a direct result of the initial hysteria produced by the virus, some partnering food agency donations were cut back drastically. With the closures of schools, churches, and community businesses, our sources for non-perishable food, toiletries, and other essential items dwindled. While financial donations were gratefully received, limited inventory on grocery shelves made it difficult to purchase the high volume of product needed to fill family food bags. We hold Fellowship Wednesdays for our homeless clients. On this day, they are welcome to come in out of the elements, have some coffee and doughnuts, indulge in a hot meal in a welcome environment and socialize. They receive a health screening, get assistance with recovering documents, and even grab a hot shower. Once a month, they are invited to join in a church service where they celebrate God’s gifts. All of this is on hold until the pandemic ends.

Q: Are you partnering with the Houston Food Bank to help distribute food?

A: Cy-Fair Helping Hands is grateful for a strong partnership with the Houston Food Bank. Since the pandemic began, we have depended on HFB to fill our ever-growing food needs. One of the most welcome sights is the arrival of the Houston Food Bank delivery truck bringing much needed food for our perpetually emptying pantry shelves. Through the Houston Food Bank Mobile Food Pantry program, we were able to provide two additional dates for food distribution in the northwest Houston area, distributing over 10,000 pounds of food.

Q: What kind of needs do you have for the ministry? How can patrons, businesses, and organizations assist you?

A: As students and school employed volunteers have returned to work, and our drive-thru food pantry distribution requires more volunteers daily, we are looking for volunteers with a heart to commit to serving this community one day a week. We especially need bilingual volunteers (English/Spanish and English/Vietnamese). Volunteers must be physically able to work outside and be able to lift boxes of produce boxes, and cases of canned goods. We need businesses to take a day of service to volunteer with Cy-Fair Helping Hands. We are asking that businesses and organizations commit to providing just one non-perishable item each month to help us keep our shelves and family bags filled with essential food items.

Cy-Fair Helping Hands is located at 7520 Cherry Park Drive, Suite B and can be reached at 281-858-1222.

For Community Outreach, contact phudson@cyfairhelpinghands.org; for Homeless Initiatives, contact jean@cyfairhelpinghands.org. Follow them on Facebook under Cy-Fair Helping Hands or visit their website at cyfairhelpinghands.org. Donations can be made online on the website or by sending funds to 7710 Cherry Park Drive, #T-385, Houston, TX 77095.


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