FIT for Houston: UH Food Insecurity Team Tackles Hunger in Houston
Bonner leaders dedicate time and energy to community food pantries and distribution efforts
By Mike Emery713-743-7197
With its collection of varied restaurants, Houston is often touted as one of the best dining cities in the country. Yet families in Texas’ largest metro area are struggling to access fresh, nutritious meals.
According to the Houston Food Bank, food insecurity affects approximately one million people in southeast Texas. This number is surprising to say the least, but the efforts of University of Houston students are making a difference in feeding many Third Ward families.
UH’s Bonner Leaders have a long history of contributing to community causes, and one of its signature initiatives is its Food Insecurity Team (FIT). FIT supports food pantries and food distributions at Riverside Methodist Church, New Hope Housing Reed (which supports vulnerable families) and Yates High School.
Their duties vary from location to location, but the students’ primary duties include distributing food to community members and assisting with sorting, weighing, and bagging (Houston Food Bank contribution and other sources).
In New Hope, families are allowed to shop at its on-site pantry while Riverside and Yates each hold regular drive-thru food giveaways.
“It’s important to support our community, especially the residents of the nearby Third Ward,” said Samuel Tran, a junior major in biochemistry. “UH is part of this neighborhood and our students care about the people who live here. All of Houston, however, can really benefit from our work.
Tran is indeed right. Houstonians in other areas of the city can – and will – benefit from the services provided by Bonner Leaders. Neha Sunkara, an economics and biology major, plans to expand the services currently provided by Bonner Leaders and lead nutrition workshops at New Hope Housing Ave. J from this fall.
Sunkara was recently awarded an Albert Schweitzer Fellowship. As part of her fellowship obligations, she is required to lead a community engagement initiative. The nutrition workshop, she says, aligns perfectly with this award. It also extends Bonner Leaders’ commitment to eradicating food insecurity in Houston.
“Providing food is very important, but it can’t do much in the short term,” Sunkara said. “These workshops have the potential to provide more lasting results for our communities.”
Community service is central to the mission of Bonner Leaders and complements the academic experiences of participating students. The students cite project management and communications as some of the skills they have developed through their service to area pantries. Teamwork is also a factor in their training as Bonner Leaders.
“I learned how to work with team members and contribute ideas,” said Isaac Benedict, a biology major. “I also learned to receive ideas from others and implement their contributions.”
The biggest lessons learned, however, stem from the connections Bonner Leaders make with community members.
“You really get insight into the needs of the community,” Sunkara said. “As Bonner Leaders, we are committed to serving, but we are also focused on gaining insight by working with the community.”
Bonner Leaders community partners agree. Deborah Mitchell is Community Outreach Coordinator for Riverside Methodist Church. Over time, she has bonded with different students and feels a sense of pride when they graduate and carry with them a sense of community service. She said a former student opened a food pantry at her graduate school as a result of her experience with Riverside and the Third Ward community.
Ultimately, partners like Mitchell are happy to work alongside students who are ready and willing to make a difference in the community. While she appreciates the professionalism displayed by the Bonner Leaders, it is their spirit that truly drives every event they support.
“We really appreciate the service of Bonner Leaders,” she said. “It has been a great partnership that produces many rewards for the students, our church, and of course our community. They bring an energy and enthusiasm that not only helps our food distributions, but truly inspires everyone involved. »
Bonner Leaders are based within the Honors College at UH. Comprised of some of the University’s top students, Bonner Leaders respond to challenges faced by Houstonians and apply lessons learned on campus for the good of the community. The projects aim to alleviate the effects of poverty in Houston and focus on education, as well as food insecurity.