Nutrition Services employees helping families fight hunger during pandemic

Dozens of cars were already lined up at McReynolds Middle School on Tuesday when Nutrition Assistant Shondrica Crenshaw arrived for her shift.

Clad in a face mask and gloves, she quickly joined her co-workers, assuming a spot six feet from them as she began placing bags of food in the trunk of each car that drove up.

“I’m more than excited to be out here,” Crenshaw said. “We’re all going through a lot right now. It’s a blessing to be able to give back.”

Crenshaw’s efforts are part of HISD’s food distribution program, which aims to ensure Houston families have access to healthy food while the district is closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Operated by HISD Nutrition Services in partnership with the Houston Food Bank, the program distributed roughly 1 million pounds of food to 40,000 families in need during a two-week period after the district closed on March 13.

After a brief break, sites reopened this week with enhanced health and safety measures, including centralization of the program at the Hexser T. Holliday Food Services Support Facility. There, limited staff pack bags of food and deliver them to distribution sites, where they are provided via curbside pick-up.

With each site able to distribute up to 500 food packages — or 15,000 pounds of food — per day, the program is on track to provide another 330,000 pounds of food to 11,000 more families by the end of the week.

“It’s a more organized and safer approach,” said Nutrition Services Team Leader Mauricia Pacheco, who helps pack the food bags. “I feel more at ease and more comfortable. Many families need this and helping them gives me a sense of satisfaction.”

As families line up at the sites, nutrition staff minimizes contact by filling out the required Emergency Food Assistance Program form for each family and placing the food in their trunk. People who walk to sites also must adhere to social distancing requirements.

Nutrition Services Team Leader Monica Garrett’s job is to fill out the form for families. Carefully maintaining her distance, she speaks to each family, getting their name, address, monthly income, and number of people in their household.

“It seems to me no one likes this part. They think it’s too much close contact with others,” Garrett said. “I do touch people’s IDs, but I love meeting everybody, seeing the smiles on their faces, and receiving their thank you.”

Although times are uncertain, Garrett encouraged the community to reach out if they need help.

“Just come out. Don’t be shy,” Garrett said. “Nutrition Services is here to serve you. And don’t panic, life will get back to the way it’s supposed to be.”