COVID-19: NE Houston Has A Great Need for Masks and Food Distribution


Johnny Gentry, Senior Pastor of Free Indeed Church, shares how Northeast Houston Responds Coalition and MASKS FOR ALL is helping their under-resourced communities have more access to food and masks.

"It's a food desert. . . so food has been a problem for a long time. Hunger has been a problem for a long time. . .yesterday we served 3000 meals, gave away a little over 300 masks. We have this meals and masks movement that's happening and we're really trying to plug more churches in, to actually set up their own sites to do food distribution as needed in their respective neighborhoods."

Mentioned Resources:

Free Indeed Church

Northeast Houston Responds Coalition

MASKS FOR ALL

Houston Responds COVID-19 Resources


Transcript:

Tommy Rosson:

Hello, it's Tommy Rosson from Houston Responds and today I'm very blessed to be joined by Pastor Johnny Gentry. He's the senior pastor of Free Indeed Church in Northeast Houston. And he also happens to be our director of our Northeast Houston Responds Coalition.


Johnny Gentry:

Good day. Good to see you, Tommy.


Tommy Rosson:

Good to see you. Tell us a little bit about what it's been like to pastor church through this process real quickly.


Johnny Gentry:

Wow. It has definitely been stretching. It has, you know, stretched our congregation, stretched our, our outreach ministry in many ways. But it's been, I would say, reinvigorating and redefining for our ministry in many ways as, as our leadership has sought to kind of reinvent and reimagine what we're going to look like in that community post-covid. So it's been, it's been a real challenge and a real blessing.


Tommy Rosson:

Yeah. One of the things that you've been, you've been working on for the last, well over a year, really two years almost now, is really that a coalition of churches in that Northeast area that work together, communicate together, help the area recover. Tell us a little bit about developing that coalition and what that looks like, but also what, what it looks like with COVID-19, a disaster we were not expecting, a crisis we were not expecting, but still you've been able to respond much better due to that.


Johnny Gentry:

Yeah, so developmentally it was slow, you know, we're fragmented in our community at times. There are pockets of churches that fellowship. And then there are some that don't, like most communities were sometimes divided by denomination by, by just fellowships. But after Hurricane Harvey, we started to see some unity. There's some key leaders in the community, guys like Ken Campbell, Household of Faith, guys like John Piles of Tabernacle of Praise, guys like Derek Davis over at Grace Church on Little York. These guys are guys who have a heart for community. And so the, I think the, the focus has been to get churches, possibly churches that are under-resourced , many of them that are just in survival mode, even in blue sky days, they're in survival mode to kind of get them to focus outward on community. I think we're seeing some progress there.

COVID really quickened, I think, many of the churches, we now have about 24 churches in Northeast. 24 pastors that are now communicating on an almost weekly basis about COVID. And that's amazing to see of the heart of the pastors, the heart of the leadership, to really be responsive, to try to figure out how to meet needs, and to just be the body for the community. I think it's growing and developing. There's potential for, for, more churches, more networks in Northeast to come together. So we're laying railroad track for that and building impasses for that to happen. It's pretty cool time in Northeast right now.


Tommy Rosson:

That's awesome. One of the things that has happened since COVID came into our community is y'all started a food pantry that did not exist there, that wasn't a part. And now you've got, more than a few churches working together to ensure it's happening. Tell us a little bit about how that came about.


Johnny Gentry:

Yeah. So, you know, Northeast in the Homestead Road, kind of Scenic Woods, Cashmere Gardens, Fontane area, right at Homestead and Tidwell, to Main Thoroughfare, Main Artery, it's a food desert. And, and 97% of the kids in that neighborhood qualify for free lunch just economically. The median household income is $33,000 in that neighborhood. That's the median household income. And so food has been a problem for a long time. Hunger has been a problem for a long time. We started an afterschool program. We were doing snacks and a meal, but that's not enough. When, when a pandemic happens, we saw an opportunity to partner with the Food Bank and the other churches and we were volunteering. And yesterday we served 3000 meals, gave away a little over 300 masks. And so, we have this meals and masks movement that's happening and we're really trying to plug more churches in, to actually set up their own sites to do food distribution as needed in their respective neighborhoods.


Tommy Rosson:

Yeah, it's crazy to think about. We were looking at the numbers a few weeks ago about the idea of living in Houston and having this idea of a food desert where I think it is, you're two 10 miles away or five miles away from, from any reasonable like a grocery store and that kind of thing. And that East Houston, East Harris County is a big food desert. So especially when, in situations like this, for many of the people, especially if they don't have a car, if they can't afford to do it, they're in a really tough situation. What does it look like, for these families that are in a food desert?


Johnny Gentry:

Right. So, you know, they're relegated to have to shop at very, very ridiculously priced under-resourced, just poor quality kind of grocery stores that are in the community. These, these mom and pop places, they're paying convenience store prices, or they have to find a way to get to 45 and Tidwell, the Walmart there, and that's probably 11 miles, or to get, you know, there's one grocery store in the neighborhood. But it's, it's, it's just the produce is poor. The meat quality is poor. And so, to get quality groceries, you, you gotta commute. If you're on the bus and you don't have transportation, you got to go get groceries on the bus or you gotta find a cousin or an auntie or a relative or a boyfriend or girlfriend or someone to come get you to drive to Humble, or to drive to, to, the Northshore area someplace where there's a decent grocery store. And that can be a challenge for those who are struggling to go to work and take care of kids and that kind of thing.


Tommy Rosson:

Absolutely. And the fact that, you know, the more I have been involved in these kinds of things, the more I've learned that the less money that you have, the dramatically more you're paying for everything in proportion. So that means these families who are $33,000 median income and that's the median, are paying a lot more for groceries. So obviously the need there is great. What do you think the biggest hindrances are for more of these types of food pantries and opportunities in Northeast and East Houston?


Johnny Gentry:

Well, you know, Jesus said in Matthew 4, the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few and there does not seem to be a great, push of visionaries and leaders and workers in the community who are working towards it. I think sometimes the community settles. And so, you know, we're praying for God to send, laborers, folks with vision, folks with resources who are, who are connected, to think outside of that neighborhood and to, and to bring in some of the amenities that you see in other, in other communities that have grown economically and otherwise.