In less than six months the one-of-a kind initiative has delivered unprecedented impact and lessons for supporting the unsheltered.
As of last week, the meal and resource delivery program developed in response to COVID-19 has served more than 500,000 meals to people experiencing homelessness. This is in addition to more than 10,000 face coverings, seven pallets of dog food, 18,000 Gallons of bottled water and more than 132,000 Individual bottles of water.
More information about the Eating Apart Together (EAT) initiative HERE.
“The City of Austin is proud to lead such an ambitious and effective program, which has met a critical need for food in our community while simultaneously helping to minimize the spread of COVID-19 among people experiencing homelessness,” Assistant City Manager Chris Shorter said. “EAT has opened new doors to partnering with community organizations and people experiencing homelessness to address our challenges with greater trust and collaboration. No one could do this on their own and we are thankful for every person who has gotten our community to this milestone.”
The operation procures food for two-thousand shelf-stable bags and thousands of additional prepared meals a week. Event staff at the Palmer Events Center spend two days a week helping to unpack, fill and organize the bags of food for pick-up. These meals are distributed by community partners already providing outreach and services to those experiencing homelessness in Austin.
This program is unique, developed holistically in response to food shortages experienced during the initial Stay-at-home order. City staff were not able to find models from other communities to follow and have not learned of other similar collaborative nutrition since.
“As someone who has worked in food policy for 25 years, I have noticed a huge gap in addressing the problem of hunger and homelessness within cities,” City of Austin Food Policy Manager Edwin Marty said. “As far as we know, no other city has ever implemented this kind of approach to feeding their unsheltered neighbors. We are excited to learn from everyone involved how nutrition can play a role in ending homelessness.”
Every week Sergio, who lives under I-35, receives his brown paper bag of shelf-stable food. In May, 2020 he told city staff that if COVID didn’t get him, hunger would. After nearly six months of EAT, Sergio hopes food delivery will continue into the pandemic recovery.
“Food has stayed tight. The worst part out here is trying to stay fed. [With EAT bags] I’m getting by every week. This one came just in time.”
ATX Camp Support, a group formed in response to COVID-19 from members of existing organizations serving those experiencing homelessness, prioritizes consistency in the services they provide. Michelle Molnar started delivering meals to Cameron Road before taking on a new role coordinating with partners and volunteers. The group provides regular meals and other supplies to fifteen camps with help from about 50 volunteers. Like many distribution partners, serving meals from the EAT initiative is only part of the food they serve and the help they offer.
“A lot of people in the group are active in other things,” Molnar said. “Everyone with ATX Camp Support understands that everything - criminal justice, healthcare, poverty - is linked. People wonder where we are from and what other things we can help with. They want to know when they will hear from their case worker. We do what we can with navigating support agencies, including getting a man with pancreatic cancer into hospice.”
The City of Austin has funding to continue providing food for distribution through the end of the year. Individuals and organization interested to help with supplies or distribution can reach out to Zack Shlachter (Zack.Shlachter@austintexas.gov).