Houston’s Thanksgiving ‘Super Feast’ is overcoming supply chain challenges to feed tens of thousands

Organizers expect to serve between 25,000 and 30,000 families during the 43rd annual “Super Feast” Thursday, they told CNN. About 635,000 pounds of food is cooked to serve as a hot meal. About 3,200 turkeys have been cooked to celebrate the holiday, and another 15,000 are distributed at a separate location outside the convention center.

It’s been a tough year for many here in this part of Texas, Stephanie Lewis, regional director of Super Feast festival organizer City Wide Club of America, told CNN. Lewis said the Covid-19 pandemic may be the main culprit, taking countless lives and livelihoods. But the devastating Arctic freeze that hit Texas earlier this year, along with soaring gas and food prices, has left families with impossible choices.

“Some people have to make a decision to either buy gas, buy food, buy gas, pay rent or utilities,” Lewis said. “They have to do a lot of work to make ends meet.”

“There are hundreds of goods in stock waiting to be shipped,” Lewis said. Lewis explained that she had bought large quantities in previous years. But to beat this year’s challenges, Lewis began event planning earlier and purchased smaller quantities of merchandise from a variety of vendors.

The hardest things to get hold of this year were frozen turkeys and paper items, organizers said.

“If we as an organization were suffering like this, the impact on families would probably be even greater,” Lewis said.

Hunger in Texas

One in seven Texans is food insecure, according to the Houston Food Bank, which defines food insecurity as “a lack of consistent access to enough nutritious food to fuel a healthy lifestyle on a regular basis.” In southeast Texas, that translates to about 1 million people, per food bank.
This is a problem only exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic — not just in Texas — but across the country, as the coronavirus has contributed to a supply chain crisis that has left some Americans without enough food.
CNN reported last month that a shortage of labor and truck drivers is making it more difficult and expensive to pack food products and get them to where they need to go. A survey by the US Farm Bureau Consortium found that Thanksgiving dinner will cost Americans 14% more this year due to price increases and economic turmoil.
The City Wide Club is preparing turkey meals for tens of thousands of people this Thanksgiving through its Super Feast event in Houston, according to the organizers.
In response, local food banks and events like the Super Feast are doing their best to withstand the slump, despite the challenges they face.

One such challenge is the growing demand: Before the pandemic, the Houston food bank distributed about 500,000 pounds of food per day, according to the food bank. During the pandemic, the food bank distributed between 800,000 and 1 million pounds of food per day.

However, demand appears to have fallen from its peak: Last month, the food bank distributed an average of nearly 688,000 pounds or produce per day — a 126% increase over October 2019, according to the Houston Food Bank.

Americans facing the worst rise in inflation

Back at the George R. Brown Convention Center, organizers of the City Wide Club of America told CNN they’re dealing with a volunteer shortage as well as supply chain problems: They typically have 6,000 to 8,000 volunteers, but this year they have about 3,500 — a drop they think is. It is due to concerns about volunteering during the pandemic.

That didn’t stop Makeba Dorsey and her two sons, John and Donovan, ages 7 to 17, who volunteered Wednesday, to help sort non-perishable donations with dozens of volunteers.

She said Dorsey is battling cancer, and she hopes that volunteering will teach her children to be grateful for what they have and the importance of giving back.

“I am grateful to be alive today and to be able to come out and help,” Dorsey said.

“Love at work”

When Louis walked into the industrial kitchen inside the convention center On Wednesday, the area buzzed with the sounds of mixing pans and knives crashing into cutting boards.

Some volunteers were soaking turkeys at Thanksgiving meal and then tossing them in boiling water.

“I love volunteering,” Linda Jones said, as she collected spices from a temporary storage at a table with canned condiments and vegetables piled high. She said she was there she volunteered with a group from City Cathedral Church.

Other volunteers were chopping the yam by hand, the sounds of chopping bouncing off the walls. Volunteers like Curlie Jackson were also putting delicious food slices into the chef’s boxes.

While she was cutting potato chips, Jackson said she enjoyed volunteering because she loved meeting new people and giving back.

A few counters later, Robert Goins was shuffling tubs of fresh cornbread from the refrigeration station to the counter.

Robert Goins has been volunteering with Thanksgiving at the City Wide Club for 26 years.

“It’s a great opportunity to help give back,” Goins said.

This is the twenty-sixth year that Goins has volunteered for happened, he said. He said that while wearing a mask and social distancing while volunteering, the spirit of Thanksgiving is the same.

Super Feast founding member Leroy Woodard told CNN that the event began decades ago in his grandmother’s kitchen. Decades later, he still volunteers today because that’s “love at work.”

On why Lewis continues to organize this event after more than four decades, she said she loves to give back and give hope.

“I’ve had a very blessed life and I always want to show people that there is help and hope on the other side of the tunnel,” Lewis said. “If you just passed the challenge, you will pass the challenge.”

And when the Thanksgiving feast ends on Thursday, Lewis says her business is still in its infancy: “On Christmas Eve, we’ll also provide toys and gifts for the kids, to brighten their day,” she says.

CNN’s Rosa Flores wrote from Houston, while Dakin Andoni reported and wrote this story in Atlanta. CNN correspondent Gaby Cohen contributed to this report.

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