Precinct 4 Encore! has always served the community by providing bus trips, volunteer activities, and recreational activities for adults over 50.
So when the coronavirus outbreak began, staff had to find novel ways to help those in need.
As reports of food shortages began surfacing, Jan Sexton, Precinct 4’s Encore! and community centers director, brainstormed ways to help.
After contacting the Houston Food Bank to offer Mangum-Howell Center as a distribution site, she learned that the most significant need was for volunteers to sort and package items. Through a combination of logistics, ingenuity, and hard work, staff transformed the room once used for luncheons, dances, and performances into a food-sorting assembly line, with pallet jacks and forklifts to move heavy food products.
“We had a staff of about 25 people every day — all Precinct 4 employees,” said Sexton. “The majority of them were from the community centers, Mangum-Howell and Big Stone Lodge. Some were the transportation and Encore! departments. We were supplemented by a few people from Events, and some troops from the National Guard would assist.”
Over the next 30 days, the food bank brought thousands of pounds of fresh produce and dry goods from their central facility to the center each day for sorting into individual boxes. Each box contained enough food for six meals.
Encore! staff continued to do their part by making welfare calls and registering families for deliveries through CrowdSource Rescue.
Maria Bonilla, the network capacity coordinator for the Houston Food Bank, worked closely with Precinct 4 during the process. The experience stood out to her in more ways than one.
Bonilla said she used to bring her children to the Mangum-Howell Center when they were young. Now, her children bring their kids there to play. When she learned that Mangum-Howell Center also served as a sorting site, she couldn’t hide her excitement.
“You all have made a difference in so many people’s lives, including mine,” Bonilla said. “We are forever grateful for all the efforts that were made to complete so many bags and pallets of produce. It truly made the lines move much faster during the distribution.”
Sexton said partnerships are why Commissioner puts so much focus into the community centers.
“It solidifies why Commissioner so strongly believes in how important community centers are to Precinct 4 — for the services they provide,” she said. “People have opportunities there that they don’t have otherwise, because of the activities that go on. We were certainly grateful for the opportunity to provide this service for the food bank and the community on the commissioner’s behalf.”