Local food pantries’ stock of fresh produce and canned fruit and vegetables are completely depleted after Houston Food Bank suffered an ammonia leak that spoiled almost 2 million pounds of refrigerated food.

“It’s a really, really big loss,” Nicole Larson of Brazosport Cares Food Pantry said.

Food banks have different purchasing power than regular retail stores, so that 2 million pounds of food spoiled by a broken fan that severed a line containing ammonia Nov. 12 is worth $27 million, Larson said.

THE EFFECT

Houston Food Bank distributes to 18 counties, so anything local pantries can do to replenish their own stock will alleviate the demand during this tragedy, she said. Stock at Brazosport Cares, Brazoria County Dream Center, Gator Mart at Brazosport College and The Food Basket will be affected by the contamination at the Houston Food Bank and are calling for the community to help.

At the Dream Center, Houston Food Bank delivers goods twice a week, and much of that is milk, bread, eggs, meat and cheese, Executive Director Terri Willis said.

“That is not in existence since last week,” she said.

The secondary result is vegetables in cans are being depleted and the Dream Center can’t order that from the Houston Food Bank because their priority is making sure people are safe and fixing their equipment, Willis said.

So at a time when the Dream Center is giving away more canned items than ever before, they are unable to order more stock at the discounted rate the Houston Food Bank gives them, she said.

The Dream Center in Clute does a backpack buddies program for school children, which serves 415 kids a week, Willis said.

“That’s a lot of food that goes out on a weekly basis,” she said.

The pantry gets another 800 unique visitors a month and they usually come twice a month, Willis said. They typically see about 75 new people each month, she said.

“Their one phrase to us is ‘If it wasn’t for us, they wouldn’t be able to eat for the week,’” Willis said. “If it wasn’t for the Dream Center, they wouldn’t be able to eat.”

“Our cooler is pretty barren,” Larson said about Brazosport Cares.

About 80 percent of food items at Brazosport Cares come from Houston Food Bank, she said. The pantry serves about 1,100 people each month through their programs, she said.

Brazosport College’s Gator Mart was unable to receive any refrigerated or frozen items this week, said Kelli Forde Spiers, director of student life and intramural programs.

“Thankfully, we had produce and frozen meat left from last week that we have been able to distribute,” Spiers said.

Gator Mart will not be open past Thursday because of the Thanksgiving holiday, so they chose not to have a delivery at the end of the week, even if it is possible, she said.

“We are hopeful that we will be able to get a shipment the Monday we return after Thanksgiving to restock everything,” Spiers said.

The Food Basket gets most of its produce from local grocery stores and restaurants, but gets a portion from the Houston Food Bank, Board Member Tom Crawford said.

HOW TO HELP

Monetary donations are the best way to help Brazosport Cares, Larson said. The pantry can turn 61 cents into a meal, which is much better purchasing power than regular retail, she said.

Fresh foods are the most needed donation right now besides money, Larson said.

If residents can’t do a monetary donation or fresh food, Brazosport Cares also needs canned fruits and vegetables, canned protein, soup, rice, pasta, beans, whole grains, protein packs, peanut butter, canned tomatoes or tomato sauce, she said.

Residents are encouraged to bring any fresh or non-perishable food item to The Dream Center, she said. Willis has an orange tree in her backyard she will use for donations and said anyone with a lemon, orange or other winter fruit trees can donate that, she said.

They will accept fresh meat, Willis said.

“I’m sure we have plenty of ranchers out there in our community,” she said.

Any food items at the grocery store can be purchased and dropped off at The Dream Center, Willis said.

“If you’re buying something for yourself … pick up two more and donate it to your local pantry,” Willis said. “We’re here every day during the week and we have a bin on the side of our building next to our delivery door.”

They will also accept monetary donations, which can be specified to be for Backpack Buddies or the pantry, she said.

“Well, we always need help,” Crawford said of The Food Basket.

Donations can be brought on Tuesday through Saturday mornings or arrangements can be made for other times, he said.

Gator Mart would also accept donations dropped off at Gator Mart or the Student Life office, Spiers said.

Pantry leaders are confident that the community will step up to help, and already saw evidence of it.

Dow Chemical Co. donated 10,000 pounds of food and hygiene items Wednesday to Brazosport Cares, which can provide about 16,000 meals, Larson said.

“We have very strong community partners who are trying to do everything they can to help us out,” she said.

Maddy McCarty is a reporter for The Facts. Contact her at 979-237-0151.

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