With COVID cases on the rise and recommendations from the CDC to stay home and limit contact with people outside your household, Houston, Texas has canceled its annual Thanksgiving parade. But the city isn't letting those funds just sit there.
Chron reports, "The money that would've been used to fund the parade was repurposed to supply meals for families." Companies like H-E-B, Reliant, Cigna, and the Houston Food Bank are among the sponsors of the event.
On Saturday, November 21, families could come to NRG Park to get a free box of groceries to help them prepare for their own Thanksgiving meals. The boxes included turkey, ham, stuffing, rolls, potatoes, carrots, onions, gravy, rice, and dessert.
It was a drive-through event in order to maintain social distancing and safety, so families just stopped at the front of the line, where volunteers in masks put the groceries in the back of their cars. City officials also handed out masks, hand sanitizer, and thermometers as part of a city-wide safety effort.
The food drive was hugely popular, with lines wrapped around the block. Some people arrived as early as 1 a.m. to get in line. H-E-B Director of Public Affairs Lisa Helfman said, "It is quite humbling. If you can imagine the need for someone to come in that early for their family to have a Thanksgiving meal, we're happy we can be here.
"Times are tough right now during the pandemic. It's a different level than anything we've ever seen before." Because the federal government has not done anything to financially help families and individuals after that initial $1,200 nearly a year ago, many families are struggling to put food on the table, let alone buy for an extravagant holiday meal.
President of the Houston Food Bank Brian Greene said, "There are hundreds of thousands of families that are continuing to struggle. I'm glad we're here to help, but I really look forward to the day they don't need us for this."
Event organizers said they handed out about 5,000 meals that day. Texas has quickly become a hotspot for COVID cases. The city of Houston has had 90,239 cases and 1,398 deaths, reports ABC 13.
Experts expect COVID case numbers to rise in the weeks following Thanksgiving because of people's unwillingness to stay home and isolate from their extended families and friends during what should be a celebratory holiday season.
Houston mayor Sylvester Turner has urged Houston residents not to hold holiday gatherings this year that include people outside your immediate household. "Don't invite COVID to Thanksgiving dinner," he said.
As this food drive has shown, food insecurity in Houston has risen because of the coronavirus pandemic. Greene told KHOU-11, "Most of the distributions we put in the trunk, I can tell you the trunks we're putting food in belong to cars that are all over the map. People who you can tell were doing fine and then suddenly they weren't."
He said that the long lines for food aren't just because of the holiday season. He said, "This is not a short term thing, this is not a Thanksgiving thing. We're going to be doing this for a long time."