COVID-19: Great Need For Partners in East Harris County


Father Christopher from St. Andrew Catholic Church in Channelview shares the great needs of east Harris County and how the community is coming together to help the under-resourced.

"Channelview Ministry Team is collaborating with the Houston Sheriff's Department and other agencies, recognizing it's not a standard and it's not a crime to be poor, to be destitute. And so we work together to do what we can to keep the whole community safe to serve these individuals."

Mentioned Resources:

St Andrew Catholic Church

St Andrew Facebook page

Channelview Ministry Team

Masks for All

Houston Responds COVID-19 Resources


Transcript:

Tommy Rosson:

Hello, it's Tommy Rosson with Houston Responds and today I'm joined by Father Christopher. He is the head of, St Andrew Catholic Church in Channelview and a very well respected person in that community. Father Christopher, thank you for joining us today.


Father Christopher:

Thank you very much. It's a pleasure to be here.


Tommy Rosson:

Tell me a little bit about what it has been like in your church, in your community with the COVID-19.


Father Christopher:

I think the same as in most places I would imagine the same. It's not like at first everyone's kind of a blind and deaf. People are living in darkness not knowing how to connect, et cetera. And so people were just immediately distanced from everyone else during the original quarantine phase. And so it's been difficult from all perspectives. We don't know who, who needs us to be reached out to, if they're not calling. We've always had someone manning our phone calls here or at our phone phones here in the office. I've always been talking to people on the telephone and called to talk. I've been meeting with people outside. We started live streaming our daily mass every morning. I started blasting our mass every morning on our Facebook page. And then that's how we've been using to communicate with our community as much as possible on the social network and our website knowing that many of our families in this area. And so we've been doing the best we can between flyers and information on our doors and telephone systems.


Tommy Rosson:

You're telling me about a couple of the ways that your congregation is stayed connected? I think one of them is a very creative way. The colored ribbons in the tree that you're using. Tell me about that.


Father Christopher:

Yes, we had, after my morning mass be bilingual on Sunday mornings, I know there's a need for the community and people are driving around with the cars on Sundays anyway, going to the grocery stores. So I started inviting them to come by the church and I was blessing them and their families as they came by. Just drive by. I gave out palms on Palm Sundays for Sunday. I gave out blessings. We had an opportunity for our offertory basket there for those who wanted to drop them outside the window. But one of the things we were aware that at Christmas we invite our families to bring an ornament. We have a big Christmas tree in front of our narthex and we ask them to bring an ornament representing their families to represent our family community, our family perish Christmas. The same idea came to me through our, actually our director of religious education, found where people were invited to bring colorful ribbons from Christmas or whatever and with the family's name on it or decorated as the family wanted to and put it on a tree outside of the church.


Kinda like an Easter tree in that sense. And so we've been, we posted that on our social media. We've been promoting that on flyers and people, word of mouth has spread in their communities. And so we have a tree here that was full of all kind of beautiful, colorful, a lot of pastels, but a lot of very artistic ribbons that the families had a project to put together. They represented their family and it gets people another motive to drive down and look at the tree and see where their ribbon is that's on the tree. But it makes them feel like they belong to our community. Stuff, that we're all in this together. That even though they may not have been coming into the doors of the church, this church still is theirs, that they still are, a part of them is still here at all times. And that's been a bridge that has helped us a lot with our community as well.


Tommy Rosson:

I love that idea of keeping that community there even though you can't gather like you're used to. Tell me a little bit about what the impact has been in your community and through some of the nonprofits that you support.


Father Christopher:

One of the ways that we've reached out in social outreach in our community, we've had a very long tradition way over 20 years, well over 25 years that I know of for sure, is St Vincent DePaul, which is an international habit organization, their own 501c3, that helps people of the community, not by religion, but simply by zip code or by areas that they serve. We usually try and that during the normal year, the rest of the year, we try to help a possibility if we had the funds, like bills, electric utility bills, grants, but at least trying to give him a bag of groceries, dry goods, et cetera. We do buy that normally from the food bank or collaborate with the food bank as well as our local food drives here and take up a monthly collection to help support that.


And throughout the normal average would be about 55 families a week that we were helping. Since the pandemic broke down, that number has exponentially grown. Every week. Once there's a major crisis and once there is a pandemic or hurricane or anything happens in tragedy, the food bank pretty much takes their normal locations that they sell or they cooperate with, and get, start sending free donations just to help distribute the food that was from the food bank. And so we became a distribution site almost immediately with the East Houston food bank system and then so we were able to help more and more families that were coming here. The issue we had was that as many people have heard, at least six weeks ago, a month ago, it was very difficult to get dry goods from the food bank.


You never knew what you were going to get, but we were getting a lot of frozen goods. We're getting a lot of fresh market stuff, but you know, you can only feed up a family, a whole pallet or a big tray of cherry tomatoes is not going to support them for the whole, of all their nutritional needs for the week. And so we had a food drive here in our parish, on social media and promoting them on word of mouth. And we had a successful one, but in the very next Tuesday, after that Sunday, we had 72 families that showed up. And they almost cleaned out what we had in our food pantry, as well as what was coming from the food bank. So, in discussing with, cooperate a lot with Houston Responds through our ministry alliance here that we have, Channelview Ministry Team would call it.


And so I was talking to someone else was asking me about it and with Houston Responds and I was explaining the situation about the masks, wanting to participate in that but also about the food issue we're helping and the having difficulty with the dry goods. And long story short, we were connected with the food drive that is going on through Mattress Mack and Gallery Furniture with their partnership with other agencies, including Kroger. And when they found out that we were in need here, that we were a distribution site on the East side, they sent over a whole truckload of 24 pallets and we were ecstatic to get that, to help offset what we were already getting from the Food Bank on the other fresh vegetables. And then the following day they called and asked if we can take another truck load.


And so we definitely took it. Thank goodness. Right now we have a Big Family Life Center that is closed. We have no Sunday masses going on there, no events going on in there. So that was a perfect place for staging. And we posted online and we had volunteers came carefully, distance, masks, the whole nine yards and they helped us sort all of those goods and we stocked our pantries. And so we've been using that last three weeks to supplement what we're getting from the food bank. And so every family that's been coming here has been getting basically two big grocery sacks with dry goods and those items. And then as well as frozen foods and fresh foods and if they have special needs, diapers, formula, whatever else, we try to keep those things in stock like toilet paper and try to give families a couple of those as well to add to their sacks. This past Tuesday, our number, this past Tuesday, we served 103 families. That's over doubled. The 55 families would have normally have been serving in our community so exponentially week by week. The need continues to grow and grow and grow. We're literally having to have a cut off points on our Tuesday evenings to monitor because we have so many people coming in. We can only help so many at a time.


Tommy Rosson:

I know that y'all have been having to do that cut off for awhile. What do you think the need looks like if you, if you had more of an unlimited supplier, a much greater supply.


Father Christopher:

The only other problem we have with that is organizing the distribution teams to do it because it takes a lot of people organizing to bag all this stuff and to be able to present it. The Food Bank also has this under their umbrella and, they have their own guidelines and they limit the number of people that can actually handle the food that's been distributed to this side. And so when you only have a team of 10 people that can do that, well the team of those 10 people, you can have other people helping with the parking lot, helping other elements of that. But I would say there's two phase two parts to it. One is to get the resources we need, but the second one is the human labor part. But then that's kind of limited as well because you have to meet all these requirements and trainings to be allowed to have access to that distribution. So that's where we are with this. I'm saying right now, we pretty much have maxed out the team we have that's able to do that to keep all the requirements met and safely and trying to do that. And without them being here five or six hours at a time and the need made to help distribute, which is unbearable.


Tommy Rosson:

Right. Yeah. I mean it's fascinating. We've talked to other food distribution sites across greater Houston. They're dealing with that, you know, you have to kind of turn each dial up a little bit at a time to be able to increase. But the need of the community is so great, you know, it's, you just kinda keep to turn it. How can churches across greater Houston, how can they be helpful to you, to what you're doing to the, the ministry team in your area? Channelview Ministry Team.


Father Christopher:

We're always willing, well our whole ministry is partnering up, partnering to love and to serve. And that's our motto and it doesn't matter which of us pastors are not even pastors, just lay persons, but community members that are part of our Channelview Ministry team. Anyone who wants to participate in do so, then contact myself, contact Pastor Irvin Clark. There's others. We do have a Facebook page, Channelview Administrative team. There is a Facebook page. You can go on there, you can send a message or whatever to us. Also the Channelview Independent School District. The superintendent's office also has our information and I make those connections as well. They help us facilitate a lot of our meetings and look for some meeting space. And so that helps us a lot. I would highly encourage any churches to come and participate in a team in their efforts.


So we're not duplicating resources, we're all working together as you do on this East side very well. And I would include anybody who wants to participate. All are welcome. We say that our Channelview Ministry Team, all are welcome at the table and we mean that. We do have some managers of some of our local businesses, restaurants who participate and they're always willing to help us out what they're able to donate, et cetera. And so everybody does our part, our, what we're able to do using our gifts and talents. I can give this, I can participate with this and then other people can participate in this. So I would say, you know, now's the time for the body of Christ, the church to be the church and that is that we're all working together for the same purpose.


Tommy Rosson:

Yeah. That's great. Wise counsel. One of the things we talked about beforehand was just some of the demographics of Channelview and that East Harris County. Tell me a little bit about the area just to kind of familiarize people with that area.


Father Christopher:

Well we are on the Eastern border of Harris County basically. And on this East side, the demographics here at least in the church and is pretty much in Channelview in general. 86% of the families here are Hispanic surnames. Among them, I don't know the percentage, but we have many who do not have work visas or proper documentations. And so they live huddled in fear of not reaching out many times. And so trying to take care of their needs as we become aware of them. Also, many of them do not have internet access during the week. We had issues with that with our students trying to learn online. We have a lot of problems with parents who are not educated with computers or reading or writing or computer literate who have difficult helping their children with that.


Well, the same applies also for us in general as a church when we're trying to deal with information now through social media or through computer use, many people still don't have access to that. And many of them are still not able to connect with that. So that's the big challenge for us in our area. I forgot what the percentage is, but over 50% of families in Channelview itself, are renters. Do not own their own homes. So we do have a lot of our families here living in trailer parks, living in rented trailers or rented apartments. And so the demo, that's the demographics. We have a lot of poverty here. The whole independent Channelview school district all offers free lunches and free breakfast to all students because they fall under the grant because such a high percentage of all families here fall in that category of low income and needing assistance.


And so that's our neighborhood around here and it's also the Eastern edge. We find we have more and more homeless as they're taken off the streets in downtown Houston and taken to the edge of Harris County. And to drop off, this has to be the drop off place. So we're, our community is growing for those who are homeless. And that's a whole other need that comes up of. And we do collaborate with Channelview Ministry Team is collaborating with the Houston Sheriff's department and other agencies, recognizing there's not, it's not a standard and it's not a crime to be poor, to be destitute. And so we work together to do what we can to keep the whole community safe to serve these individuals. And that's an ongoing battle. And, and trial as well. That's a challenge for us. So we are on the East side.


Tommy Rosson:

Well, you know, for Houston Responds, you know, our desire is to support the congregations in those communities that are already working together. And so that's why, you know, we form these coalitions around disaster response. But the Channelview Ministry Team, has already existed and they've been doing a great job and so our ability to support them, but that's why it's so critical to have those local organizations and churches working together so that those from outside the area can come in and be of support to that body as opposed to just kind of doing their own thing and a lot of duplication there. And there's really a great resource for churches that might want to adopt that area of town. This is a great resource for them to find that because challenge is not that far away from Lake Houston area. It's not that far away from Clear Lake and Pasadena. It's right there in the middle of our community.


Father Christopher:

Yes, absolutely. No, we were very blessed in this community. We're very blessed that it's not just pastors, our Channelview Ministry Team is really community leaders and anyone who wants to participate. We have people from the school district, including the superintendent of school district here, and some of the board members attend our monthly meetings as well. And so sincerely, we're very much where it takes a village to raise our children, to keep our children safe. It's not just the school district's responsibility. It's not just as a pastor keeping my people in my church because I know these are our people. This is our community. We're one, we all work together. There's more work and needs to do out here that all of us working full time will ever be able to do. We're not gonna overstep each other's parameters of having too much help. But then again, we're wasting resources by trying to duplicate things. And there are people that take advantage of duplication among others, from church to church. And we're trying to work together to do the best for the common good as one body.


Tommy Rosson:

Well, that's great. Y'all have been doing amazing work there for a very long time. I'm very glad you joined us today. Anything else you'd like to add?


Father Christopher:

No, as I said, we're all in this together and it's unfolding. And as I said that the Channelview Ministry Team, I'm very thankful that, of the East of Harris County and the Houston Responds and cross collaborating together because it only makes sense that we work together as one, to help the most people. And like I said, it's not yours mine or it's really, that's our community. The resources that people give, we're just stewards of the whole community and we're trying to be best stewards we can to serve most equal. So it's not about us. It's not about my title. It's not about my position. It's just being a serving.


Tommy Rosson:

That's great. You're such an inspiration, not just for the area, but for everybody. I appreciate your time.


Father Christopher:

Thank you very much for having me here. And thanks for all that you do with Houston Responds as well. And God bless you and God continue to bless all the works of our hands.


Tommy Rosson:

Absolutely. Pastors, if you would like more information about the Channelview Ministry Team, and what's going on at Channelview, that will be listed in the bottom in the notes of this video, as well as if you go to Houstonresponds.org/COVID-19 there'll be more information, resources about how to volunteer as well as Faith Leader Insights, to how to respond to or, how different churches are responding to this crisis. Thank you for joining us today.


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