Best Practices Awards: Harris County

TAC recognizes commissioner's food programs during the pandemic

By County magazine staff

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When the pandemic began shutting down Texas in March 2020, Harris County Commissioner Adrian Garcia knew that a large number of families in his precinct would go hungry if he and his team did not move quickly and creatively to help them. The challenges were unprecedented, but they had to be met.

Garcia's efforts were varied. The precinct staff formed a comprehensive approach to countering limits on food availability imposed by the shutdown while reducing the risks of exposure to the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. From providing brown bag lunches to children to expanding the daily delivery of hot meals to homebound seniors and partnering with local restaurants and nonprofits to distribute food to families in need, staff members organized, tracked and delivered tens of thousands of meals and tons of food throughout Precinct 2.

In recognition, the Texas Association of Counties named Harris County the recipient of a 2020 County Best Practices Award, combining six related programs implemented by Garcia under the single umbrella of "food accessibility and distribution."

"This is just one example of how responsive and proactive good government can be," Garcia said. "Despite social distancing, we in local government remain the closest to the people we serve, and early in the pandemic, we knew food insecurity would increase in our communities. With this in mind, we strategically and dramatically expanded our meals program, which in pre-pandemic times, were deployed on different schedules. My team took on the challenge of implementing them all at the same time."

The result, Garcia said, was the distribution of more than 6 tons of food.

"I’m so proud of my team for moving with deliberate speed and staying focused for those who need it the most," he said, describing the work as "a true herculean effort."

The six recognized programs:  

  • Brown Bag Lunches. Distributed more than 21,000 ready-made lunches containing a sandwich, fruit and chips to children at parks and to residents of all ages at community centers.
  • Homebound/Congregate Senior Meal Delivery. Delivered more than 37,000 free nutritious hot meals to qualifying homebound residents over age 60. 
  • Hot Meals Fridays. Partnered with local restaurants not only to supply more than 10,000 hot nutritious meals to those in need but also to support Precinct 2's small-business restaurants.
  • Houston Food Bank Distribution Partnership. Collaborated with the Houston Food Bank to host about 50 drive-thru events at multiple locations that distributed food and supplies to more than 25,000 families throughout the precinct.
  • Second Servings Pop Up. Joined with the nonprofit Second Servings of Houston to rescue and redistribute excess perishable food at pop-up drive-thru locations before it spoiled. 
  • Shelf Stable Meal Boxes. Collected nonperishable food items approved by a registered dietitian to bring more than 28,000 shelf-stable meal boxes containing five meals each to participating older residents.

"These six inspiring programs from Harris County show a dedication to excellence and serving the public that illustrate how Texas counties continue to find creative solutions to difficult problems," TAC Executive Director Susan M. Redford said.

Every other year, TAC's County Best Practices Awards Program recognizes noteworthy innovations and solutions that increase efficiency, improve operations or overcome obstacles facing county governments. These innovations and solutions help Texas counties serve their residents more efficiently and effectively. The best of them also serve as models that other counties can shape to fit their particular needs. 

Harris County was one of six Texas counties selected to receive a TAC 2020 County Best Practices Award. Look for more spotlights in future issues of County magazine. Learn more about the County Best Practices Awards Program at www.county.org/bestpractices.