Houston Thanksgiving ‘Super Feast’ Overcomes Supply Chain Challenges to Feed Tens of Thousands

Organizers expect to serve between 25,000 and 30,000 families at Thursday’s 43rd annual “Super Feast”, they told CNN. About 635,000 pounds of food is cooked to be served as a hot meal. About 3,200 turkeys have been prepared for the feast, and another 15,000 are being distributed in a separate drive-by location outside the convention center.

“Some people have to make the decision to buy gasoline or buy food, or buy gasoline or pay rent or utilities,” Lewis said. “They have to do a lot of work to make ends meet.”

“There are hundreds of products that are in storage, waiting to be shipped,” Lewis said. In previous years, Lewis explained, she just bought wholesale. But to overcome this year’s challenges, Lewis started planning the event earlier and purchased smaller amounts of merchandise from various vendors.

The most difficult items to obtain this year were frozen turkeys and paper items, organizers said.

“If we as an organization suffer like this, the impact on families is probably even greater,” Lewis said.

Kimberly Stubblefield told CNN that enjoying a Thanksgiving meal at the Super Feast is a family tradition, and on Thursday her 11-year-old granddaughter woke up and asked when they were heading to the convention center.

Food banks have been a crucial source of food during a difficult fiscal year, she said, describing having had to choose between paying one bill or another. “It’s tough there,” she said.

But Stubblefield always finds things he’s grateful for.

“I’m grateful for life, I’m grateful for the family,” she said. “I’m grateful to the Houstonians who are reaching out as if they are reaching out.”

Hunger in Texas

One in seven Texans is food insecure, according to the Houston Food Bank, which defines food insecurity as a “constant lack (of) access to enough nutritious food to fuel a consistently healthy lifestyle.” In Southeast Texas, that translates to about 1 million people, according to the food bank.
It’s a problem that has only been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic – not just in Texas – but across the country, as the coronavirus has contributed to a tight supply chain that has left some Americans without enough to eat.
CNN reported last month that labor and trucker shortages are making it harder and more expensive to pack food items and get them to where they need to go. And a survey by the American Farm Bureau Federation found that Thanksgiving dinner will cost Americans 14% more this year due to rising prices and economic disruption.
According to organizers, the City Wide Club cooks turkey meals for tens of thousands of people on Thanksgiving as part of their Super Feast event in Houston.
In response, local food banks and events like Super Feast are doing their best to pick up the slack, despite their own challenges.

One of those challenges is growing demand: Before the pandemic, the Houston Food Bank was distributing about 500,000 pounds of food a day, according to the food bank. During the pandemic, the food bank distributed between 800,000 and 1 million pounds of food per day.

It appears, however, that demand has fallen from its peak: Last month, the food bank distributed an average of nearly 688,000 pounds or produce per day, a 126% increase from October 2019, according to the Houston. Food Bank.

Returning to the George R. Brown Convention Center, Tiffany Bernard, a single mother of five, drove through the distribution area, where volunteers filled her minivan with frozen turkey and other foods.

Americans suffering the worst of soaring inflation

The pandemic has been particularly hard on Bernard and his family. It is difficult to buy the basics, she said, such as rent, gasoline, clothes and haircuts.

“Sometimes I have to decide, ‘Am I going to take my diabetes medication, or am I going to pay a bill? Am I going to buy gas, or take the bus, or put the kids on the bus? ‘ Just decisions, decisions. ”

But she makes it work, crediting her “strong family” as well as her faith in God. “And I got help from places like this and pantries and things, and I appreciate all the help.”

Organizers of the City Wide Club of America told CNN they face a shortage of volunteers in addition to supply chain issues: they typically have between 6,000 and 8,000 volunteers, but this year they have. about 3,500 – a decrease they believe is due to fear. on volunteering during the pandemic.

That didn’t stop Makeba Dorsey and her two sons, John and Donovan, aged 7 and 17, who volunteered on Wednesday, helping to sort non-perishable donations along with dozens of volunteers.

Dorsey is battling cancer, she said, and she hopes volunteering will teach her sons to be grateful for what they have and the importance of giving back.

“I’m just thankful to be alive today and to be able to go out and help,” Dorsey said.

“Love in action”

As Lewis entered the industrial kitchen inside the convention center On Wednesday, the area was buzzing with the sounds of mixed pots and knives hitting cutting boards.

Some volunteers marinated the turkeys for the Thanksgiving meal, then tossed them in boiling water.

“I love volunteering,” Linda Jones said as she grabbed spices from a makeshift pantry on a table that had condiments and canned vegetables stacked high. She was volunteering there with a group from the city’s cathedral church, she said.

Other volunteers were chopping yams by hand, the sounds of chopping bouncing off the walls. Volunteers like Curlie Jackson also placed the sliced ​​delicacies in bins for the chef.

While chopping yams, Jackson said she enjoyed volunteering because she enjoyed meeting new people and giving back.

A few counters down, Robert Goins was dragging molds of fresh cornbread from a cooling station to a counter.

Robert Goins has volunteered for the City Wide Club's Thanksgiving Super Feast for 26 years.

“This is a great opportunity to help give back,” Goins said.

This is Goins’ 26th year of volunteering for the event, he said. And while wearing a mask and social distancing while volunteering are different, the spirit of Thanksgiving, he said, is the same.

Leroy Woodard, founding member of “Super Feast,” told CNN the event started decades ago in his grandmother’s kitchen. After decades, he still volunteers today because it’s “love in action”.

As to why Lewis continues to host this event after more than four decades, she said she enjoys giving back and giving hope.

“I have lived a very blessed life and I always want to show people that there is help and hope on the other side of the tunnel,” Lewis said. “If all you do is take the challenge, you will complete the challenge.”

And at the end of the Thanksgiving Super Feast on Thursday, Lewis says his work has only just begun: “On Christmas Eve we will also be providing toys and gifts for the children, to brighten up their day,” she said. .

CNN’s Rosa Flores reported from Houston, while Dakin Andone reported and wrote this story in Atlanta. CNN’s Gabe Cohen contributed to this report.


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