Feeding Houston’s hungry one meal at a time
More than 36 million Americans are regularly unsure of where or how they will get their next meal. More than 800,000 of these men, women and children live in the greater Houston area — enough people to fill every seat in Reliant Stadium 11 times. The End Hunger Network’s mission is to dwindle this number to zero by enabling everyone — from individuals to food industry businesses — to donate food for the thousands of our Houston neighbors who suffer from hunger.
Mary Barden Keegan established the End Hunger Network in 1985 after watching a television program about hunger in Houston. She was one of 450 Houstonians who called the station that aired the show to offer pledges, food and time. Soon after beginning End Hunger Network, Keegan created its signature initiative — placing red oil barrels in grocery stores to make it easy for people to donate food. Today, red barrels are found in more than 200 stores in the community, along with preprepared “Help End Hunger” grocery bags for sale that make donating food even easier. The red barrels and premade grocery bags are just a few ways End Hunger Network works to connect food donated by people and businesses with food pantries, emergency shelters and other hunger-relief agencies in 18 Houston-area counties.
The Food Rescue program helps bring perishable foods that would otherwise go to waste to the thousands of hungry Houstonians who need them most. Food Rescue trucks take perishable food, such as produce, meat and dairy products that food-industry businesses will soon throw out, and deliver it to Houston hunger-relief agencies. The Community Kitchen program is an initiative with S.E.A.R.C.H, a Houston organization that helps Houston’s homeless, that prepares individuals for jobs in the food-service industry. The 14-week culinary food-service job training program, free for adults who qualify, simultaneously teaches skills for employment while helping to prepare meals for distribution. In 2003, End Hunger Network created a fresh meat rescue program, named the Meal Prep program, in response to the millions of pounds of fresh meat that is wasted in the community annually. Using fresh, but short-dated meat, Meal Prep creates nutritious meals that are then quickly distributed through the Houston Food Bank network.
This past summer, the End Hunger Network celebrated the grand opening of the Mary Barden Keegan Hunger Relief Center, a new 14,950-square-foot building located at I-45 North and North Main. The new home of the End Hunger Network features state-of-the-art kitchen facilities, cold and freezer storage, and meal preparation, as well as distribution services. The facility will help End Hunger Network bring even more meals to the members of the Houston community suffering from hunger.
“Imagine having to choose between paying your utilities and buying food for your family,” says David Davenport, End Hunger Network’s executive director. “Food may be the most basic human need, but for many families, food is used as a flexible expense, not a fixed expense.”
What began as an idea is now an organization that collects 4 million pounds of food annually — enough to provide 3.2 million nutritious meals a year. Thanks to her vision and the passion of the staff and volunteers that support End Hunger Network, obstacles that prevent getting food to Houston’s hungry are surpassed.