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Grocery Delivery During COVID-19 Hasn’t Really Been An Option For Homeless Austinites – Until Now

Gabriel C. Pérez
Packages containing a week's worth of groceries will be handed out at encampments under U.S. Highway 183 in North Austin and a handful of other locations thoughout the city.

As COVID-19 narrowed the capacity of groups that feed Austin's homeless, many were going hungry or simply afraid to get food at places that typically offer meals because it meant risking close contact with others.

A new partnership between the city, Integral Care, the Central Texas Food Bank and The Other Ones Foundation hopes to change that by providing a more socially distanced option – meeting the most food-insecure Austinites where they are and providing a week's worth of groceries.

The seeds of the Eat Apart Together program, announced Thursday, were sown a few weeks ago. Max Moscoe, a coordinator with The Other Ones Foundation, and others had heard people concerned about food insecurity while standing in line for the nonprofit's mobile hygiene clinic, a shower-equipped trailer that's been wheeling around town since late March.

"I definitely heard out in the field several people say, 'I have no way to stay safe from this. I don't know what to do. I can't stay away from people, because I have to come out here,'" Moscoe said. 

Most opportunities to get food come in congregational settings like soup kitchens – places homeless Austinites may have to visit multiple times a week for meals.  

Credit The Other Ones Foundation
A look at the grocery bags provided by the Other Ones Foundation.

Having a week's worth of groceries for those folks means cutting down on the number of interactions they have to have with others– which is key for homeless folks, who may be at higher risk of the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus.

So The Other Ones Foundation started making meals with items like beef jerky, peanut butter, canned tuna and packaged fruits and nuts. Its part-time employees, some of whom have previously or are currently experiencing homelessness, assembled the kits. Then, they distributed them during their daily rounds at different spots across the city.

As more people took to the program, however, the foundation's capacity dwindled; it was paying out of pocket for the groceries for each kit, with some donations here and there.

"Then we started realizing really quickly, as you do when you're a small, grassroots organization that we could not possibly make enough grocery bags," Moscoe said.

So, the foundation reached out to the city, and last week Austin City Council members approved a six-week, $400,000 program that would scale-up the foundation's plan with help from the Central Texas Food Bank and Austin-Travis County Integral Care. The food bank will help source the meals, and the Austin Convention Center will serve as the staging area, where the center's employees will assemble the kits.

The partnership has taken a lot off the foundation's plate – and could potentially quadruple the program's capacity.

Instead of sourcing, preparing and distributing the kits, now the Other Ones will be able to focus solely on distribution. It also won't be alone – Austin-Travis County EMS and Integral Care are pitching in to deliver the groceries.

In earlier days, the Other Ones managed to provide a week's worth of groceries for roughly 230 people over a couple of weeks. Now, with the help of the Austin Convention Center, they'll be able to assemble and distribute 1,000 bags per week, which will eventually also include toilet paper, protective masks and other hygiene supplies.

"It's been really inspiring to watch the community – all the way from service providers to just regular folks – stepping up and working together to help those who are really, really at risk and vulnerable at a time like this, " Moscoe said. "It's very easy to turn inward and focus on yourself and your family, which I'm doing, [and] I think it's reasonable to do. But it's also really exciting to see people turn outward and help the most vulnerable parts of their society."

The program will pass out groceries daily at sites throughout the city from 9 a.m. to noon. Here's a list of locations: 

  • Monday at Ben White Boulevard and Pack Saddle Pass and at Cesar Chavez Street and Pleasant Valley Road
  • Tuesday at Ben White Boulevard and Burleson Road, Pleasant Valley Road and Riverside Drive, and at the Little Walnut Creek Branch Library
  • Wednesday at Slaughter Lane and Menchaca Road and at U.S. Highway 183 and Cameron Road
  • Thursday at U.S. Highway 183 and Burnet Road, I-35 and Airport Boulevard and at 7th Street and Gonzalez Street.
  • Friday at the Ruiz Branch Library

Got a tip? Email Andrew Weber at Follow him on Twitter @England_Weber.

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Andrew Weber is a general assignment reporter for KUT, focusing on criminal justice, policing, courts and homelessness in Austin and Travis County. Got a tip? You can email him at Follow him on Twitter @England_Weber.
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