Houston-area Episcopal Latino mission feeds thousands feeling coronavirus impact

Posted Apr 3, 2020

The Rev. Pedro López, vicar of Iglesia Episcopal San Pedro in Pasadena, Texas, helps distribute food during its food drive.

[Diocese of Texas] Iglesia Episcopal San Pedro, in Pasadena, Texas, fed over 2,300 people through its feeding and assistance ministry on April 1. San Pedro’s nonprofit organization, North Pasadena Community Outreach, or NPCO, partners with the Houston Food Bank to host a weekly food pantry. Normally NPCO distributes food to around 200 families as well as offering benefits assistance. However, the novel coronavirus pandemic has resulted in a nearly 250% increase in the numbers of those served.

“Many of our families are especially vulnerable because they work jobs without wage protection and job security. When so many employers cancel on their housekeepers or workers, families lose their income,” said the Rev. Pedro López, vicar of San Pedro. “The situation is even more devastating for refugees and undocumented immigrants who will not be eligible for financial assistance from the government,” López added.

San Pedro’s feeding ministry was made possible through the participation of over 20 volunteers. “Most of these volunteers are young adults from the church community who are themselves out of work,” said the Rev. David Goldberg, curate. “They stepped up to help when we sent many of our regular volunteers home because their age made them especially at risk.” Volunteers are required to practice social distancing, wear masks and gloves, and avoid close contact with clients.

While the food pantry was open, 446 cars followed a mile-long trail that wound through three school parking lots and down a nearby thoroughfare. “I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Celia Curiel, site manager. “Normally we see a couple of hundred families, but many of these people have never been here before. I’ve even seen friends and fellow parishioners here for the first time. So many people are struggling.”

Iglesia San Pedro is located in an industrial suburb of Houston. The neighborhood consists of mostly immigrant families, many of whom suffer from the effects of endemic poverty. According to the Episcopal Health Foundation, the average life expectancy in North Pasadena is more than 20 years below the average in more affluent Houston-area neighborhoods.

“The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated existing vulnerabilities. This makes the work of Houston Food Bank partners, like San Pedro, all the more important,” said Houston at-large City Councilman David W. Robinson. “I have been so impressed by the willingness of religious communities, including and especially Episcopal churches, to do God’s work, even as they responsibly close their doors for Sunday worship.”