The novel coronavirus was first detected in the United States this past January, and in the ten months since, the effects have been devastating. In Texas alone, there have been over 900,000 reported cases of COVID-19, and over 18,00 deaths to date. Black and Latinx populations have been disproportionately affected by the virus, with the highest rates of infection and fatality.
Right now, Texas seems to be in the midst of a new resurgence, though numbers are difficult to confirm. The Texas Department of State Health Services (TXDSHS) reports a daily average of approximately 4,500 new cases the week of October 22, but the New York Times claims there has been a daily average of nearly 5,230 during that same period. And, according to Uncast, a company that analyzes GPS data from smartphones to assess social distancing measures, Texans still maintains a failing grade in social distancing throughout the pandemic.
Despite the rising numbers, the state continues to reopen businesses, including restaurants with dine-in service up to 75 percent indoor capacities. The latest executive order passed by Governor Greg Abbott allows bars to resume in-person services with limited capacities, with the approval of each respective county’s judge. It’s been a divisive move, and has received pushback from officials in Dallas, Harris, and Travis counties, who feel it’s too soon, and have declined to allow bars to reopen in their districts. However, that hasn’t stopped surrounding counties from reopening bars.
Over 3.7 million Texans have filed for unemployment relief since mid-March. The state’s unemployment rate hit a record high of 13.5 percent in April and was hovering around 8.3 percent in September. The hospitality industry has been hit especially hard, with mandated closures, limited reopening capacities, brand-new safety measures, and confusing regulations. The Texas Workforce Commission, which handles unemployment in the state, processed the equivalent of four years’ worth of claims between March and August, and reported over one million calls within a week in March. The unemployment office was overwhelmed, and has garnered criticism for being outdated and underprepared, leaving many Texans struggling without income.
Texans, many unable to afford basic needs (rent, utilities, and grocery bills), are turning to charities and volunteer organizations for help. In August, the Central Texas Food Bank, the largest hunger-relief charity in Central Texas, reported an 220 percent increase of first-time clients since the pandemic started. In September alone, the organization distributed over seven million pounds of food to those in need. The number is staggering, considering that almost 13 percent of Travis County residents were already food insecure before the pandemic and relied on food banks to meet their needs. That current number is now closer to 18 percent, according to hunger-relief organization Feeding Texas.
With unprecedented need comes unprecedented support, and Austinites have been quick to offer help where they can. Local restaurants have created pop-up groceries and launched charitable campaigns and community kitchens to feed the city. Individuals have supported fundraisers for their favorite restaurants, raising funds to help these businesses stay afloat, as well as ordering takeout as much as possible. Volunteer-led mutual aid groups have also begun offering direct aid for those in urgent need.
Editors have done their best to highlight inclusive organizations and charities, but we recommend doing your own research to ensure their ethos align with your own. If you are in a position to set up a recurring donation, please consider doing so.
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Mutual Aid Groups
Mutual aid networks have been popping up around the country, providing a way for communities to take care of their own when official government organizations cannot. The volunteer-led efforts offer an egalitarian approach, quickly and directly addressing individual needs within a community. Through Google Docs and Facebook pages, people can state exactly what they need and are matched with someone who can provide. Though many are first learning of mutual aid now, the term was first coined in a 1902 essay collection: Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution.
ATX Free Food Sharing: A mutual aid Facebook group dedicated to feeding Austin. Members can request what they need, or post what they can offer, and all exchanges must be for free or barter. Join the Facebook group here.
ATX Free Fridge Project: ATX Free Fridge Project brought community fridges to Austin. The fridges are a no-questions-asked sharing space for prepared food, produce, beverages, and other necessary items, like clothes and sanitation products. The original location is at Nixta Taqueria, and the second is at Unit C art gallery. More are expected to come. Anyone can donate products or take them, based on need. Follow the group on Instagram or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. Businesses can host a fridge, and the initiative is accepting recurring donations, too. Cash donations can be made through Venmo (@atxfreefridge).
ATX Mutual Aid for COVID19: Started by the Primrose Community Care mutual aid, this Facebook group facilitates community and information sharing. Members can offer their services or ask for help, in addition to sharing informational resources. Join the Facebook group here.
Austin Mutual Aid: This mutual aid group is committed to helping Austin’s unhoused through multiple initiatives. In addition to supplying meals across 14 homeless camps, it also launched a GoFundMe campaign to fund the delivery of necessary drinking water and cooling supplies to those without shelter. The group recently launched a free monthly zine — available on its Facebook page — that focuses on food resources that do not require paperwork or an identification to access. It’s accepting volunteers, and donations both in-kind and cash. For more information, contact email@example.com.
COVID-19 Community Assist: Austin residents can ask for assistance or offer to help through this mutual aid Facebook community. The group will try to supply anything from clothing to grocery shopping, food donations, to masks. It functions on an honor system, and you can offer direct support to neighbors here.
Emergency COVID-19 Relief for Sex Workers in Austin: The Austin chapter of the Sex Workers Outreach Project launched an emergency fund and food pantry to offset the loss of income due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. Though the group prioritizes trans and BIPOC workers, its resources are available to anyone in the adult industry. In-person and mail donations of food, personal hygiene products, and cleaning supplies are also welcome; contact directly to arrange for donations at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Artists Emergency Relief Fund: In response to the novel coronavirus pandemic, the Austin Creative Alliance launched this fund to support people in the arts, culture, and creative fields facing housing and food insecurity. Though the group has already raised over $125,000, its projected goal is over $2 million. Donations are being accepted through Facebook or PayPal.
Transgender Education Network of Texas: The organization known as TENT is dedicated to furthering gender-diverse equality throughout Texas. In response to the novel coronavirus pandemic, it launched a COVID-19 Community Emergency Relief Fund. All funds raised will be distributed to trans, nonbinary, and gender-diverse individuals in Texas facing financial hardship. Donations are being accepted through its secure transaction page.
While all charities need financial donations to function, many — especially in the food distribution space — rely on the work of volunteers to serve their community. Because of the social distancing requirements in place, opportunities to volunteer are more limited than usual, but still needed. Many of these organizations need help packing grocery boxes and distributing food to the unhoused and immunocompromised. Read on to find opportunities to volunteer around Austin:
Central Texas Food Bank: The largest hunger-relief charity in the Central Texas region, the Central Texas Food Bank is still accepting both group and individual volunteers. There are still several opportunities available, including volunteering with a mobile food pantry, preparing donations for distribution at the warehouse, and supporting the on-site kitchen staff in the community kitchen. You must register in advance to volunteer, slots are available up to a month in advance. Find more information and register here.
El Buen Samaritano: Focused on the Latinx community (though anyone who needs help is welcome), this faith-based ministry is accepting volunteer applications on an as-needed basis. There are several steps required to volunteer, including an online application, background check, orientation, job match interview, attendance at Safeguarding God’s Children program, and job-specific training. Start the process online here, or contact email@example.com for more information.
Forkout: This Austin-based charity is out to end hunger by redistributing food surplus to those in need. It’s accepting volunteers, or “forkers,” to help with deliveries. The group covers the cost of the ServSafe Food Handler certification for volunteers, which can range from individuals, families, to entire companies. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to register.
Good Apple: The Austin-based startup is accepting volunteer applications for its “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” initiative. The COVID-19 relief operation is a partnership between Good Apple, Welcome Table, and CapMetro. The organization delivers free bags of pantry staples and fresh produce to low-income seniors and other high-risk individuals. It’s seeking volunteers to help pack bags, unload trucks, and assist with contact-free curbside diaper pickups. Find more information here.
Lifted Spirits: This hospitality-focused charity is accepting volunteers to help the organization better support the service industry. Volunteer opportunities could include education, support, networking, videography, community organization, and more. Fill out the online application here.
Manos de Cristo: The faith-based charity is currently accepting volunteers to work its food bank. Volunteers must be available weekday mornings to pack grocery bags, and commit to working at least once a month for three consecutive months. Apply online here.
Meals on Wheels: Support one of Texas’ largest meal delivery organizations by volunteering as a driver for Meals on Wheels. Trainings are 30 minutes and currently held over Zoom. The organization is planning to restart daily meal deliveries in January, and have 200 available delivery routes in need of volunteers. Fill out an interest form to start the process, or email email@example.com with questions.
Mobile Loaves & Fishes: This social outreach ministry is accepting both in-person and remote volunteer applications. Remote applications focus on the Community First Village, the affordable, permanent housing community for people who have experienced homelessness. Its fleet of mobile food ministries are accepting volunteers to help with serving food, preparing meals, and other behind-the-scenes assistance. Each truck is operated by partner organizations, with varying volunteer needs; contact each specific truck to volunteer. Specific contact information can be found online here.
One Fair Wage Campaign: This national coalition works to support millions of tipped and sub-minimum wage workers. It launched an emergency fund to deliver cash assistance to workers in need, and is recruiting volunteers to help verify applicants. Sign up online.
Save the Food Austin: This volunteer-run organization is on a mission to end food insecurity in Austin by reclaiming food from grocery stores that would otherwise be thrown away because of sell-by dates or minor blemishes. The group distributes the rescued food to those in need around the city. The nonprofit is accepting volunteers, find out more information here
Hunger Relief: Food Banks, Food Rescue, and Food Pantries
Food Banks, Food Rescues, and Distribution Organizations
Food banks tend to work as large-scale holding areas, storing millions of pounds of food and other products from grocery stores and commercial kitchens, distributing everything to various pantries and community kitchens around the community. Food rescues work with commercial kitchens and local farmers to salvage surplus food that would otherwise go into landfills. The groups redistribute this food to hunger relief agencies, reducing food wastage, and bringing affordable nutrition to families in need.
Central Texas Food Bank: The food bank collects, stores, and redistributes food to communities and pantries in 21 counties in the Central Texas region. The organization also offers direct food supplies for those most in need. It’s still accepting volunteers and cash donations. Individuals can consider hosting their own virtual food drive to raise funds, since the nonprofit is experiencing a dramatic increase in need. Volunteers must register through the online system here.
Circle of Hope: The Pflugerville-based community center operates a food pantry and mobile food pantry for those in need. The volunteer-run operation serves over 1,500 families every month from around the Austin area. It is currently operating a drive-thru food bank on Mondays and Fridays, and is accepting volunteers, cash donations, and food donations. See the website for more details.
El Buen Samaritano: Connected to the Episcopal Diocese of Texas, El Buen Samaritano serves the community through educational programs and food assistance. It’s currently operating a drive-thru food pantry, open to all in need, and no documentation is required to receive help. It’s also accepting financial donations to continue fighting food insecurity, and volunteers on a limited basis. Apply to volunteer here or donate online. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for questions.
Hope Food Pantry: The Hope Food Pantry has been feeding Austin’s hungry since 2000. To minimize risk during the novel coronavirus pandemic, the nonprofit started curbside distribution for its food pantry, allowing families to safely pick up prepackaged bags of staple food items. Donate funds online here. Contact Stephanie Humphreys at email@example.com for information about organizing individual food drives.
Keep Austin Fed: This volunteer-based food rescue connects surplus food from restaurants, grocery stores, and retailers to Austinites in need, reducing hunger and food waste. Because the nonprofit doesn’t accept individual food donations, the best way to support them is through financial donations. With every 10-cent donation, the organization is able to procure a pound of food. Donate here. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss volunteer opportunities, or find more information here.
Meals on Wheels: The Central Texas branch of Meals on Wheels is one of the largest meal-delivery organizations in the state. It provides 3,000 nutritious meals a day to the homebound elderly and those with disabilities. Since the pandemic, the organization has been supplying two weeks’ worth of lunches every other Friday to their clients, while practicing social distance measures. It’s accepting volunteers and donations.
Mobile Loaves & Fishes: This Christian faith-based food ministry operates the largest prepared food program for the homeless and working poor in Austin. To date, it has served over five million meals, in addition to distributing clothing, hygiene products, and other life-sustaining products, without discrimination. It’s currently accepting remote volunteers and financial donations. Limited in-person volunteer opportunities are available.
Save the Food Austin: The Austin-based nonprofit wants to end food insecurity in Austin by reclaiming nutritious food destined for the landfill. Each week, the group recovers 9,000 pounds of unused produce, baked goods, and more from grocery stores, and redistributes everything through sidewalk giveaways at community centers and low-income apartment communities. The food they rescue is perfectly edible, but has either reached its sell-by date or is slightly blemished, making it undesirable for stores. The volunteer-run organization is accepting volunteers and tax-deductible donations.
Travis Heights Christian Outreach: The Travis Heights Harvest Blessings Food Pantry is a volunteer-run, faith-based food pantry that offers food assistance to any Austin resident, regardless of religion or identity. It operates two drive-thru pantries, and offers optional prayer support. It’s currently accepting volunteers, as well as food and financial donations. Contact email@example.com for arrangements.
Soup Kitchens, Pantries, and Shelters
Facilities like soup kitchens, food pantries, and shelters directly engage with the city’s most vulnerable, including the unhoused, unemployed, and food insecure. There are dozens of charities throughout Austin, and you can find a comprehensive list of places offering free food with this Central Texas Food Bank resource center and the Homeless Shelter Directory. These organizations are often supported by religious institutions, but each listing here offers aid regardless of faith, race, gender or sexual orientation. Read on to find out how you can help:
Angel House: Due to COVID-19, the soup kitchen ministry of the Austin Baptist Chapel is no longer able to provide hot meals in the dining room. Instead, it’s offering pre-packed breakfast and lunch meals to-go. There are limited volunteer opportunities available, and it’s accepting donations of cash, food, pantry goods, serving supplies, and clothing. Find donation information here. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Caritas of Austin: Caritas of Austin works to end homelessness in the city by providing stable housing, education, job placement, and healthy food for the unhoused community. The nonprofit operates a food pantry and a community kitchen for those in need, and are not religiously affiliated. Currently, it’s asking for financial donations and pantry donations, you can find a list of its most needed items here. Limited volunteer opportunities are available, sign up here.
Connections: This nonprofit organization has been providing safe housing and care for homeless and abused children in Austin since 1981. Its Emergency Youth Shelters and Transitional Living programs provide housing, counseling, and food to the city’s highest risk youth. While it typically accepts volunteers and in-kind donations of clothing and houseware, currently, it’s only accepting monetary donations and new, store-bought donations during the pandemic.
Manos de Cristo: This faith-based charity seeks to empower low-income individuals through providing essential healthcare, educational programs, and food assistance. The food pantry is currently curbside-only. Donate online here or contact email@example.com about food donations and food drives. The food pantry is also accepting volunteers.
Community Organizations Providing Food Access
Austin Independent School District Crisis Fund: The Austin Educational Fund and Austin Independent School District created this emergency fund to provide the school community with continued access to health programs, remote learning, and food services. The food service team gives out up to 10,000 meals per day to students and caregivers (the latter prepped by local restaurants). It’s accepting monetary donations online and by checks. Payment information is available on the website.
Forkout: This Austin-based charity rescues good, surplus food that would otherwise be thrown away, and distributes it to shelters, food banks, food pantries, senior centers, frontline workers, and more. It relies on donations and volunteers to feed the community. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information, or visit the website here.
Free Lunch: This independently run organization was started by event producer Jazz Mills at the start of the novel coronavirus pandemic. Along with a rotating team of volunteers, Mills provides hundreds of healthy, home-prepared meals each week to the homeless community at Camp R.A.T.T (Responsible Adult Transition Town). Free Lunch is accepting donations through Venmo (@FreeLunch-ATX) or its website. Regular contributors will receive a quarterly zine, which serves as its newsletter. For more information, email Mills directly at email@example.com or follow on Instagram.
Good Apple: This Austin-based startup uses unsold organic produce from local farms for its subscription-based delivery service. For every box sold, it donates another to a Travis County family in need. The delivery service also launched a COVID-19 relief initiative, ‘Stay Home, Stay Healthy,’ where it delivers free food to low-income seniors and other high-risk individuals. Sign up for its produce delivery here, donate directly to the initiative here, or volunteer to help pack food here.
Keep Austin Together: The emergency food initiative connects food suppliers with surplus food, commercial kitchens, and local nonprofits to supply prepared meals to members of the community facing food insecurity. The group prepares up to 1,500 meals a day, and is accepting support through donations of time and resources. Sign up here.
Red Beans and Ricely Yours: Austin couple Maris Clegg and Chris Cubas have been dishing out free meals to those in need since mid-April. With support from the community, the two provide weekly home-cooked meals of red beans and rice, complemented with donated foods from the community. The sign-up sheet for meals goes up on Tuesdays, and deliveries are made on Sundays. Sign up for a meal here , or volunteer to bake or make deliveries here. You can also donate directly through Venmo or PayPal, or email RedBeansAustin@gmail.com to donate items.
Neighborhood Baking Collective: This East Austin collective of home bakers sell a weekly rotation of naturally leavened breads, cookies, brownies, and other treats. The money raised is then used to bake donations for unsheltered Austinites in need. To support the initiative, order through Instagram direct-message or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Worker and Restaurant Relief
When the novel coronavirus pandemic first hit, many restaurants started their own fundraisers to support their staff through the mandated closures. Other organizations have since sprung to action, aiding out-of-work hospitality workers. And despite the struggles that have faced local restaurants during this time — including limited reopenings — Austin restaurants have remained dedicated to serving the community. Several restaurants are also participating in the Comfort Food Care Package program (CFCP), which provides meals for at-risk families across Texas during the pandemic. You can find more information about the program — and all the participating restaurants — here. Read on to find out how to support the initiatives feeding the city:
Austin Coffee Collective: This completely volunteer-led initiative typically cultivates community and educational events for coffee professionals in Central Texas. In the wake of the pandemic, it started providing financial relief to those workers who apply. It also has been providing free coffee and essentials packages, consisting of of locally roasted coffee beans, bread, eggs, oat milk, and menstrual products. Donations are accepted through Venmo (@AustinCoffee-Collective). Email email@example.com with any questions.
Austin Shift Meal: Inspired by the Houston initiative of the same name, Austin Shift Meal has been supporting struggling service industry workers with meals from local restaurants. Previously, the group offered a package of five meals each Tuesday, though that has since ended. Currently, it is focused on two holiday drives, one for Thanksgiving and one for Christmas. People can register online. To support the initiative, volunteer or donate online. Email firstname.lastname@example.org with questions.
Austin Virtual Tip Jar: After the cancellation of South by Southwest, and government-mandated closures, and now limited reopenings, the Austin Virtual Tip Jar was founded to support industry workers who normally rely on tips. The Google Doc allows workers to post their establishment and Venmo or PayPal information, so people can send them funds directly. You can access the list here. Contact email@example.com with any questions.
Lifted Spirits: This nonprofit charity provides emergency relief for Austin hospitality professionals. There are two types of financial assistance available: direct grants and no-interest microloans, and interested people can apply online. It’s also accepting donations through Venmo (@LiftedSpirits) to help fund these efforts. There are also volunteer opportunities, available here.
One Fair Wage Campaign: The One Fair Wage Emergency Fund was established to raise money for struggling tipped workers during the coronavirus crisis. The charity serves verified workers across the country, and it recently launched a volunteer system to help verify the number of people requesting help. It’s also accepting cash donations here.
Southern Smoke Foundation: The Houston-based charity, led by chef Chris Shepherd, provides free mental healthcare to those in Texas, as well as COVID-19-specific resources and emergency relief funding for food and beverage industry workers nationwide. To qualify for emergency funds, people must present documentation and proof that they were employed prior to the pandemic through its application process. It’s also accepting donations here.
Feed a Friend GoFundMe: East Cesar Chavez bar Drinks Lounge is helping service industry folks in need through a dedicated GoFundMe. For every $1,000 the bar raises, the team will provide 100 meals to those in the service industry. In addition, it helps keep the bar in business and provides an extra day of work for their staff. Donate through its GoFundMe here.
Restaurants Offering Care Packages & Raising Money
Alcove Cantina: This downtown Round Rock Mexican restaurant, and its recently reopened sibling spt the Rock Sports Bar are both participating in the “Rock Gives Back” campaign. Send either restaurant a direct message through their respective social media accunts to request a free meal or to sponsor one for someone in need.
Baton Creole: This hot pink Cajun food trailer is donating meals to service industry and medical workers in need. For every $10 contribution, the team will cook up a “pay it forward plate.” You can make an anonymous donation, or reserve it for someone specific. Donate online here.
Bread for the People: Wives Sarah Stevens and Libbey Goldberg co-founded this sourdough social enterprise at the start of the pandemic. Since then, they’ve raised over $19,500 by selling their scratch-made sourdough loaves. All of the proceeds are donated between local and national organizations, and they support three organizations each week.. You can keep track of their progress and see who they’re supporting each week through Instagram and Facebook. Donations can be made through Venmo (@libbey-goldberg), and you can order loaves by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cover 3: A CFCP partner, the North Shoal Creek location of sports bar Cover 3 is offering two menu packages. There is a $50 family meal for four, and with two options (a roasted chicken dinner with mashed potatoes and Caesar salad; the green chile beef and tinga chicken enchiladas, with rice and beans). For $100, there’s a family meal package for six, which includes a selection of tacos, rice, salad, brownie bites, milk, eggs, apples, oranges, and a roll of toilet paper. By ordering these meals, it will be sent to a family in need. Call Denim Koshell to donate a meal at (512) 914-1983.
Crema Bakery and Café: This queer-owned bake shop on Brodie Lane began providing free bagged lunches to those in need at the start of the pandemic. The service continues, offering peanut butter and jelly, ham, or turkey sandwiches, with a piece of fruit, a juice box, chip, and a baked good. These are available at any time, with no questions asked. The bakery is also accepting donations through Venmo or its website to fund these efforts.
Dough Re Mi: Founded in May by two high schoolers, Sarah Zeng and Alice Huang, this bite-size cookie shop donates 80 percent of their proceeds to United Way for Greater Austin to fight poverty. Since launching, they’ve raised over $3,400 for the community. They also make dog-friendly cupcakes too. To support, order cookies online or email email@example.com.
Easy Tiger: The Austin bake shop launched its 10,000 Loaves Community Challenge in March, with the aim to donate at least 10,000 freshly baked loaves to those in need in two months. It hit its goal within 40 days, but the initiative still continues. For support, people can donate a “community bread” for $3 through its website, which will then be distributed to a neighbor in need through its food partner distributors: Central Texas Food Bank, Keep Austin Fed, Drive a Senior, and Mobile Loaves & Fishes.
Flightpath Coffee: This North Loop coffeehouse launched Kristin’s Commissary to help feed those who lost their jobs due to the novel coronavirus. With the commissary, it sells repackaged bulk foods, like fresh produce, beans, cheese and flour, at cost. With additional financial donations from the community, it’s able to further reduce prices, making the food even more affordable. There’s also a 30 percent discount to its digital grocery for those in need. Donations are being accepted through Venmo, just specify ‘commissary’ in the notes.
L.E. Meals: The home of Gullah-Geechee-NOLA fusion in Austin is supporting the city’s unhoused community with care packages. The meals are hand delivered by chef-owner Alexandria Hollowell and her team, and contain an entree, snack or dessert depending on availability. Hollowell has experienced homelessness before and is dedicated to building a support network for the unhoused in Austin. The care packages are distributed every Thursday, and the restaurant relies on donations to keep their program running. Donate directly to help support the care packages online.
Pizzeria Grata: This South Austin pizzeria is combining its preexisting “pay it forward” program with a Lifted Spirits partnership to support the community through the novel coronavirus pandemic. Customers can add a $5 donation to orders, and Pizzeria Grata will send a cheese or margherita pie to a family in need. Order through its website.
Tso Chinese Delivery: This innovative Chinese food delivery service launched its #TsoGiving campaign at the start of the pandemic. The campaign supports a new cause each month. Previously, the delivery restaurant has given out family meals to service workers in need, a $500 food credit to a single family, and food for teachers, among other initiatives. In October, it is donating meals to support local charities. Support Tso’s work through GoFundMe or Venmo, and find more information on their website.
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