Houston Chronicle

As the economic impacts of the pandemic continue to affect the area, residents are stepping up to help with support for the Montgomery County Food Bank.

Compared to this time last year, the food bank has seen a 127 percent increase in the need for its services locally, and CEO and President Kristine Marlow does not see the need disappearing anytime soon. But in numerous ways, the residents of the county have offered their help to make sure that the food bank can continue to provide to those in need.

Nick’s Local Eats is a community group run by Nick Rama that aims to promote local businesses through community engagement. A few months ago, Rama came up with a fundraising idea that could help both the food bank and local eateries: businesses would choose a drink or food item that when purchased, $1 of the proceeds would be set aside for the food bank.

While he expected to just start with 20 restaurants, Rama managed to get 32 restaurants with 42 locations participated.

“That first month, we did $5,000,” Rama said. “This is during the middle of COVID, where restaurants are at 50 percent (capacity), bars are closed, and I was just so happy with the results.

At first, the idea centered around specialty cocktails, but soon more businesses wanted to get involved. The fundraiser expanded to 15 more businesses, including bakeries, ice cream shops, popcorn places, and more. In the end, the fundraiser brought in $17,689 for the food bank.

“One dollar can buy five meals, it is great purchasing power for us,” Marlow said of what the funds raised will be able to accomplish.

Rama already plans on continuing the fundraiser and has started the second leg of this fundraiser, which will last through the end of the year. As long as businesses will sign up, the funds can be raised.

“Flabbergasted,” is the word Rama uses to describe his reaction to how much was raised. “Proud of everyone. Proud of every manager, restaurant owner, bartender, wait staff that helped get us to that goal.”

Purchasing power

The money the food bank has raised since the pandemic hit the county in March through September has helped purchase 6.9 million meals and helped over 462,000 individuals, Marlow said.

“That’s why we’re very grateful and thankful for our partners,” Marlow said. “The local agencies, small, large, and individuals, who do food and fund drives and who participate by volunteering in our warehouse.”

Volunteering and an ongoing food drive are what the Dawoodi Bohra community of The Woodlands chose to do in honor of World Food Day, Oct. 16. The religious community held a food drive, and contacted the food bank to volunteer in the warehouse, something they plan on doing regularly going forward. When they came to volunteer they donated over $1,000 they had collected.

“Our community wanted to be involved and see where we could reach out to,” said Sabrina Yamani, spokeswoman for the local Dawoodi Bohra community. She had been in talks with the food bank for several weeks to create an ongoing partnership between the non-profit and the religious community. “This is definitely an idea that’s inspired by our community values.”

Community volunteers

Every couple of months members of the Dawoodi Bohra community will be volunteering with the food bank, and families will be volunteering on family volunteer days. The donation box for the food drive will remain in the community hall to keep taking donations to be donated every few months, and monetary donations will also be collected.

“They value the same types of things that we do, as far as not having anybody go hungry, and to make sure that we’re taking care of our environment,” Marlow said of the Dawoodi Bohra community.

The food bank has also found support from the Howard Hughes Corp., which donated $500 for every home it sold in two of its locations. The funds raised from this donation are still being finalized.

Like many nonprofits, the food bank has also taken a financial hit as fundraising and donations have slowed because of the pandemic.

“We’re going to see this increase in need continue for a long time,” Marlow said. “We aren’t able to fundraise in the ways that we have in the past with some in-person events, and some of those larger things — our gala was postponed — so we’re just going to have to think outside the box. So, we’re really grateful for community support.”

The food bank warehouse is stocked enough at the moment to continue serving the community through the next month.

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