City of AustinFOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
City, County, nonprofit, and faith-based partners created the Eating Apart Together (EAT) initiative to reach people during COVID-19.
A group of leaders from programs that provide food and homelessness services have come together to create and implement the Eating Apart Together (EAT) Initiative, a coordinated food delivery program designed to meet the varied needs of this population, following the March 24 Stay Home - Work Safe order.
The changing food landscape created by the response to COVID-19 has impacted the entire community, particularly those experiencing homelessness.
“With social distancing, people aren’t sharing food or money out in the community or on street corners,” David Gomez, Program Manager for Homeless Services at Integral Care said. “Many of the food pantries have closed. And, for those with money, the stores they go to have limited supplies. Now more than ever, it’s important that we make sure our neighbors experiencing homelessness have enough food.”
“We are asking everyone to participate in the COVID-19 response, but those without homes have few resources and are at great risk in this crisis,” Vella Karman, City of Austin Interim Homeless Services Officer said. “Making food easily and reliably available will reduce the travel required to meet basic needs, creating less risk of spread across Austin.”
The program kicked off last Thursday, April 9, when the City received shelf-stable, easy to open food from the Central Texas Food Bank. The packaging and distribution of the food is staged at the Austin Convention Center. Austin Convention Center staff also helped pack 1,000 bags to be distributed mostly to encampments outside the urban core over the next week.
The meal bags also serve as a distribution vehicle for health, hygiene, and educational materials. The first iteration of the bags included health information and a trash bag; future iterations will include protective face covering, toilet paper, and hygiene packs as available.
The Other Ones Foundation (TOOF), an outreach organization that helps people transition out of homelessness, leads the Shelf-Stable Bag delivery coordination, partnering with Integral Care’s Programs for Assistance in the Transition from Homelessness (PATH) and Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Service to provide food outside the urban core.
“As we were out in the mobile hygiene clinic, we found that people were hungry and frustrated,” Max Moscoe, TOOF Community Engagement Coordinator said. “People needed more food and didn’t feel like they had a way to stay safe from COVID-19. That is where we saw we needed food, and if people don’t feel safe moving around, they need shelf-stable food so they can stay in one place to eat it.”
While weekly food and water delivery will help many in encampments stay in place, those in the urban core may not be able to store food supplies. To help those who traditionally rely on soup kitchens, the City has developed a contract to provide a thousand refrigerated, ready-to-eat meals a day. Starting soon, the meals will bolster the supply served through existing programs at Central Presbyterian, Angel House, Sunrise Homeless Navigation Center, and Mobile Loaves and Fishes.
The initiative is part of the City’s Social Services Arm of the Emergency Operations Center and includes members from Austin Public Health, the Office of Sustainability, Parks and Recreation Department, Watershed Protection, Austin Public Library, and Communications and Public Information Office. Those interested in helping add food or people power to the initiative can reach out to Zack Shlachter at Zack.Shlachter@austintexas.gov.
Additional details about the EAT Initiative can be viewed at www.austintexas.gov/department/eat-initiative. For more information about services and resources for people experiencing homelessness visit www.AustinTexas.gov/Homelessness.