Fair Haven Food Pantry at Chapelwood UMC has Served more than 100,000 People Since Pandemic began
By Lindsay Peyton - En Español
Houston resident Jake Aurelio, 13, wanted to earn his “Citizenship in the Community” Merit Badge for the Boy Scouts. There was only one problem. He could not find an organization open during COVID-19. Eventually, Jake found an answer in his own backyard. The church he attends, Chapelwood UMC, was organizing a drive-through food pantry on its Fair Haven campus, serving those in need in the community and beyond.
Suzanne Harter, Chapelwood’s Director of Serving Ministries, explained that the Fair Haven Food Pantry has been serving the community for decades, but the coronavirus pandemic prevented at-risk volunteers from continuing the effort.
That’s when Harter got a call from the Houston Food Bank. At Chapelwood, she was already coordinating volunteers for its Backpack Buddy program, providing food for children when school meals were not available.
The Houston Food Bank asked to continue the program during spring break – which was extended due to stay-at-home orders. The following day, the nonprofit emailed Harter, wondering if the church would receive palettes of food to distribute to families in need.
Since Fair Haven already had served as a resource for food in the community, the campus seemed like an ideal location to set up a drive-through distribution. Harter signed up.
“We started getting 50 palettes of food a week,” Harter said. “Then Borden Dairy called us and we started getting 400 gallons of milk each week.”
Before long, the distribution was up and running, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday through Friday. Volunteers from Chapelwood and Fair Haven, as well as churches in other denominations and other charity groups, signed up to help. Since March 2020, they have served over 100,000 people at the Fair Haven Food Pantry.
Vehicles lined up for the food in the Fair Haven parking lot. They register, then drive in and pop open their trunks. Volunteers load them up with produce, meat, milk, pasta, dry goods and canned goods.
If children are in the household, they receive Backpack Buddy servings as well. Some vehicles contain multiple families in need of assistance.
Already, the Fair Haven effort has distributed about one million pounds of food. Harter said there have been about 6,400 volunteer hours since March.
Jake and his mother Melissa have been among those volunteer ranks since May 20, their first day on the job.
“At first, Jake needed the hours for Scouts,” Melissa said. “But then, it just took off.”
Jake completed his badge requirements after about five trips. “But we realized there was a lot more we could do than just packing food,” he said. “We wanted to try handing out food, cleaning, registering. There were a bunch of different jobs to do.”
And they liked going. “You’re there with people who also like doing this,” Jake said. “It’s a good vibe.”
His friends began volunteering at Fair Haven too. Melissa enjoyed joining to serve others.
“It gives us an opportunity to go out in the community and see people,” she said.
A couple of weeks ago, Jake had to quarantine at home before a dental surgery. He did not want to miss helping at the food distribution, so he elected to make single serving bags at home.
Jake and Melissa shopped at multiple stores for the items they needed to make 500 bags. “Our house was like a little grocery store,” Melissa said.
While he was at home, they spent the time assembling the bags. Last week, Melissa brought three car loads to Fair Haven.
On their first day at the food distribution, Jake took a tomato and cut it into thirds, placing each in a container and hoping they would sprout.
“Just the other day, my little plant started growing tomatoes,” Jake said.
That’s how long he has been volunteering. Now, he’s thinking of planting his own food in a community garden that donates to the Houston Food Bank.
“There are a lot of things you can do to help people and the earth,” Jake said. “Just doing a little thing can help make a big difference.”
He has no plans to stop helping at Fair Haven anytime soon. Harter said the need for assistance is only growing.
She talks to families in line who have lost their jobs. “It’s just heartbreaking,” she said. “It’s a hard place that everyone is in together.”
Chapelwood also has a Year-Round Manna rent assistance program. The church works in partnership with Spring Branch ISD to help families in crisis with rent, utilities, food and clothing.
Executive Pastor Dr. Matthew Russell said that the congregation has a heart for helping those in need. “That need is not diminishing,” he said.
Chapelwood wants to do more than simply provide outreach, Russell added. He explained that building relationships in the community will make efforts lasting and sustainable.
“Churches don’t need to be lone rangers,” he said. “They can be catalysts for change and build community partnerships that take off.”
To learn more or sign up to volunteer or donate, visit chapelwood.org/fairhaven/serve/fair-haven-food-pantry/249/.