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Houston Millennials Inspired to Give Back in the Age of Coronavirus
May 1st, 2020
By Melissa Fox

When Hurricane Harvey hit almost three years ago, people watched from their televisions as Houstonians helped Houstonians. Whether it was a hot meal, dry clothes, or a safe place to stay, we came together to lend our neighbors a helping hand. We always knew we were resilient, but during one of the Bayou City's greatest tragedies, we showed the world just how #HoustonStrong we truly are. 

Now our city, like the rest of the world, faces another crisis, and we are once again proving just how much Houston cares. As a group of innovators and collaborators, local millennials are leading the charge to help those in need during the coronavirus pandemic. 

From Helping Us Celebrate to Helping Us Stay Healthy 

If there is one thing about which Houston can boast, it’s that we know how to have a good time and we love the local companies that help us do it. So, when a local distillery saw that the city that has supported them was in need, they looked at the tools they had and knew exactly how to help. 

Yellow Rose Distilling, Houston's first legal whiskey distillery which started in 2012, was, according to their website, “born on a night amongst friends” like some of the best millennial start-ups. When the city first began seeing its first cases of COVID-19, and the subsequent hand sanitizer shortage began, the team at Yellow Rose wanted to help those who needed it the most, Houston's first responders. The distillary has donated 500 gallons of WHO-compliant hand sanitizer to the Houston Fire Department. "Houston is home," said Andrew Stewart, Yellow Rose Distilling U.S. Brand Manager. "We are so proud to be able to provide the much-needed hand sanitizer to the Houston Fire Department and support organizations around our community."

Seeing a need in the public as well, Yellow Rose has made the hand sanitizer available to the public free of charge. Houstonians can call to reserve their free bottle and pick it up at the tasting room. 

Feeding Those Who Feed Us 

When Barbara Bronstein noticed the excessive amounts of food that was being wasted at banquet events, she knew there had to be a way to connect the abundance of food with the abundance of need, and thus, Second Servings was created. Since 2015 Bronstein and her team have rescued over 3 million pounds of food and have delivered it to over 90 local charities.

When the shutdown due to the coronavirus left thousands of hospitality workers furloughed, Second Servings created the Dinner Is On Us program to help feed those who have always been there to feed us. The organization, with the help of volunteers, is providing 10,000 take-home, chef-prepared meals a day. The most loyal of the program's volunteers are none other than those hard-working Houston millennials. "With many offices closed, younger individuals, specifically millennials, have had the flexibility to volunteer during the day to help aid the community in need," said Kristen Torrez, Second Serving's Communications Specialist.

This group is also motivated by the organization's mission that ties sustainability with combating hunger.  "Those who recently became familiar with Second Servings express how much they love our mission to reduce waste and alleviate hunger," said Torrez. "They say 'it's a no brainer, just makes sense!' We've already had many returning volunteers each week and look forward to continuing to fight hunger and reduce waste, even after the crisis!" 

Through the generous support of their community partners, like program sponsor Hess, Second Servings announced last week that they would begin providing these meals to any Houstonian in need at their drive-up distribution area. 

No Business Like Show Business

Needing to cancel their spring seasons and having to furlough much of their staff, the shutdown has hit Houston's iconic Theater District especially hard. This hardship has not stopped theater workers from helping where they can. The theater community has joined together, using fabric from past performances and from their own stashes, to make masks, including highly coveted N95 mask covers.  These masks are being distributed to hospitals and nursing homes around the nation. 

"Most of the entertainment industry is out of work right now, and we all have skills that can be used to help this crisis," Meg Edwards, Assistant Stage Manager of Houston Grand Opera, recently told Houston Public Media. "Our costume shop is used to building corsets and bustles and giant dresses and tailcoats, and all of that kind of stuff. There's no reason that they are not more-than qualified to make a face mask."

 

Providing Relief for Those Behind the Scenes 

Alison Robbins moved to Houston several months ago to advance her career in the wine industry. But not long after starting her new job in sales, she was laid off due to the pandemic. Robbins found herself wanting to help the industry she loved but didn’t know quite how when she was struggling herself. Then she heard about Southern Smoke Foundation. The nonprofit launched by acclaimed Houston Chef Chris Shepherd established an emergency relief fund for food and beverage workers in 2017 following Hurricane Harvey. Since then Southern Smoke has helped hundreds of industry workers and suppliers nationwide. 

With the pandemic wreaking havoc on the U.S. hospitality industry, Southern Smoke has seen a surge in applications for assistance as well as donations from those wanting to help. Robbins is one of a number of caseworkers the foundation has hired in recent weeks to help manage applications and get people needed relief. It’s granted more than $1.2 million in the last two months. “Unfortunately, the food and beverage industry is often forgotten about, particularly those people behind the scenes like the dishwashers or the cleaning crew,” Robbins said. “Most in this industry live paycheck to paycheck and there really isn’t a failsafe. So I’m hoping I’m able to help open everyone’s eyes to that reality.” 

 

Looking to volunteer? Click here for Volunteer Houston's resource guide. 

Click here to learn how to make your own CDC approved masks. 

Do you have a story about how you or your organization are aiding those who have been affected by coronavirus? Tag us so we can share the news. 

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