On a dreary Tuesday morning at Etheredge Stadium in La Marque, vehicles filled the parking lot and lined the streets. They backed up onto Scott Street, hanging a left on Howell Avenue. Another left stretched the line far down Magnolia Drive.
More than 23,000 Galveston County residents faced food insecurity before the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Galveston County Food Bank spokeswoman Julie Morreale. The pandemic and the accompanying job losses have increased that demand, food bank officials said.
“What we’ve seen is an increase of people who have never used food banks before,” said Kelly Boyer, who conducts census outreach on behalf of the food bank. “When you crunch all the numbers, it’s about a 10 percent increase.
“The story we hear over and over again is, ‘We’re out of work; we’ve never been in this situation before,’” Boyer said. “For some people, it can be scary to use a food bank if you’ve never done it before. So, we try to make it as comfortable and as accessible as possible.”
One of the food bank’s mobile trucks can distribute essential groceries to as many as 700 people, but it’s first come, first served. Texas City resident Dorothy Hardy, 69, arrived at 3:15 a.m. to be second in line for the drive-through food distribution when it began at 10 a.m. Tuesday, she said.
“We’ve never had so many people before,” Hardy said. “We have more than ever.”
Although the food bank also operates pantries, the drive-through mobile food banks, which move around to different sites in the county every weekday, have become the preferred method for people to pick up their food during the pandemic, Morreale said.
“That’s where people are most comfortable,” Morreale said. “They don’t have to interact with anybody or get out of their vehicles. Most people feel a little bit safer there.”
To keep up with the increased demand, the food bank has increased the capacity at its two warehouses and is increasing its efforts through various programs, Morreale said.
Because of the pandemic, the food bank has transformed its pantry from a shopping experience to pick-up only, Morreale said. As a result, the food bank doesn’t staff as many volunteers to operate the pantry and has been able to shift volunteers to different areas where they’re needed more, she said.
“Our needs are changing,” Morreale said. “We’re helping our partnering agencies on our outside mobile locations. Because of COVID, they need help.”
Elsewhere, the M.I. Lewis Social Service Center, which serves the Dickinson, Bacliff and San Leon communities, actually saw a slight decline in demand for its services at the beginning of the pandemic when people received federal stimulus money, as well as extra unemployment benefits for those who lost jobs, executive director Betty Lessert said.
The center, which offers disadvantaged residents emergency financial assistance, a food pantry, food delivery to homebound senior citizens and back- to-school supplies, served 359 people in March, and then the number decreased to 235 in April, 215 in May and 212 in June, Lessert said.
But, Lessert doesn’t expect a decline this month. She won’t have specific numbers for July until the end of the month, but she’s sure the number of people using the center’s services will increase, she said.
“It’s picking up now because they have spent all that money,” Lessert said. “It’s gone. I don’t know that if we get another round of stimulus checks the same thing will happen again or not. We’ve seen a lot of people who were laid off.”