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Published June 2, 2020

THE VIEW FROM MY SEAT

Hurricane season, virus put pressure on Dream Center

By Ernie Williamson / The Bulletin

The disabled veteran called the Brazoria County Dream Center seeking pet food for his service dog.
He was asked whether he, too, needed food. The veteran, apparently too proud to ask for food for himself, admitted he and his dog were sharing pet food.

It’s been tough times for Brazoria County’s poorest and most vulnerable populations. COVID-19 has exacted a toll on residents still reeling from Hurricane Harvey and river flooding. And it appears another busy hurricane season has already started.

The Brazoria County Dream Center (BCDC) is trying to keep pace with these mounting challenges.

What started in 2007 as a thrift store for basic necessities at the Family Life Church is now a non-profit charity separated from the church and located in Clute.

The center, funded by corporate donations, now administers free food programs, provides school supplies, passes out Christmas gifts to needy children and offers assistance to disaster victims through a recovery program. The center also assists with hurricane preparedness.

Guided by executive director Terri Willis since 2008, the charity now has five full-time employees and requires 35 volunteers daily to support its programs.

On the charity’s website, a 55-year-old disabled woman tells of struggling after being given custody of five grandchildren.

“When I was told about the Dream Center, it was like another door that God opened,” she said. “Over the last two years, they have helped me with food, clothing, coats for the winter and toys for the children’s Christmas. Each volunteer is wonderful and helpful, and they put forth an extra effort in everything they do.”

Willis and her team see the devastating impact COVID-19 is having on our communities. The impact sometimes strikes close to home. Volunteers who were once helping others are now themselves waiting in line for food.

The pandemic has forced BCDC to adjust and expand its programs.

Prior to the pandemic, the charity operated the Dream Pantry. It was set up like a grocery store so clients could pick out the food they wanted to take home to their families.

The Dream Pantry, however, couldn’t handle the crowds caused by the pandemic so the center switched to distributing bags of food in a drive-through program. Typically, 1.2 pounds is considered a meal so a family of four would be lucky if the 60-pound bag of food lasted a week.

Some weeks more than 700 families line up for the food and, since the start of the pandemic, more than 974 new families have registered for the program.

These new families cite job loss, reduction in hours and the cost of food as the reasons for joining the program.

Because of the pandemic, many of the center’s high-risk senior clients have been unable to visit the center because of stay-at-home recommendations. So, the center started a delivery program taking 40-pound bags of free food directly to the homes of senior clients. Volunteers deliver to all parts of the county and average 120 stops per week.

Willis says most of the seniors in the program live on only $700-$900 a month. They not only welcome the food but the social contact with the volunteers.

With the help of the Houston Food Bank and AmeriCorps members, the center has also expanded a program that delivers fresh food to the county’s rural areas. Before the pandemic, the center delivered food to these areas once a month. Now the deliveries are weekly.

The Backpack Buddies program provides healthy food to children who otherwise might not have adequate food over the weekend. Teachers, counselors or nurses identify children they think are in need of assistance.

Another school program provides back-to-school supplies to economically disadvantaged students who often skip the first day of school. About 1,000 students get everything from tennis shoes to toothpaste.

“Many children in poverty skip the first day of school because they are embarrassed that they don’t have new things,” Willis said. “Everybody is watching the first day. Nobody is watching the second day.”

Willis knows what it means to be down on your luck. She grew up poor in Clute, and now she and her husband are living in a “barn.” She has been so busy helping others that they haven’t had time to complete repairing their home that was damaged by Harvey.

For more details on the charity’s programs, go to https://wwwbcdreamcenter.org.

(Ernie Williamson welcomes reader input. Please contact Ernie at williamsonernie@gmail.com. Or, send letters in care of The Bulletin, PO Box 2426, Angleton, TX. 77516)