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Food service in Waco proves challenging amid icy conditions

Food service in Waco proves challenging amid icy conditions

From the Winter storm in Waco, across Texas: February 2021 series

Scrambling for heat and shelter has become a search for food for some, as grocery stores run low on basics, restaurants adapt and services including Caritas and Meals on Wheels discontinue operations in the midst of Waco’s generational winter storm.

But dire situations also have brought out the best in people. Baylor Scott & White Hillcrest Medical Center reported an outpouring of donated food as staff members hunkered down in the facility to avoid slick drives. Volunteers trekked to McGregor to rescue Mill-King dairy products for stocking at Jubilee Food Market. And Baylor University opened its Penland Hall dining facility to furnish meals to students.

H-E-B spokesperson Chelsea Thompson said 18-wheel delivery trucks are stuck at the grocer’s distribution center in Temple, lacking drivers and suitable weather to make trips to Waco. As such, local H-E-B locations have been doing without daily reinforcements. Milk, eggs, bread and water are disappearing, though deliveries may resume late Thursday or Friday, Thompson said.

Many restaurants have closed entirely or have limited hours, though some closed Tuesday managed to open Wednesday. George’s Restaurant & Bar on Speight Avenue was dark again Wednesday, but manager Kevin Lopez answered the phone as he supervised repairs to a broken waterline. The Bush’s Chicken restaurant at New Road and Bosque Boulevard shared a different story. Franchisee Serafin Vences said the operation was running at full tilt. Hazardous driving conditions and limited dining options elsewhere brought about 6,000 customers to his doorstep and drive-thru Tuesday.

Wednesday’s performance also was impressive, Vences said.

“A lot of people took advantage of Tender Tuesday,” Vences said, mentioning a weekly promotion. “We fed a lot of people, a lot of families. We heard a lot of ‘Thank-you’s’ in the drive-thru lane. Some other restaurants and some of our other locations were closed. We were able to keep pace with demand because Bush’s locations that couldn’t open brought over product.”

Here are some statistics that take full measure of the winter weather crisis that gripped the region.

Caritas of Waco, whose food pantry feeds an estimated 1,500 people monthly, has been closed since Friday, co-director Ann Owen said. Deliveries to the pantry have stalled because of inclement weather, and employees are not able to make their way to the complex downtown, Owen said.

She said hopefully the situation soon will be resolved, stating in an email message that “not being able to open our facility has been extremely difficult for both co-executive directors. It keeps us awake at night and tugs at our hearts. We care deeply about serving those in need.”

Jubilee Food Market, 15th Street and Colcord Avenue, has enjoyed record-shattering sales this week, as residents of the North Waco neighborhood avoid longer drives to larger grocery stores elsewhere in Greater Waco, said John Calaway, chief executive at Mission Waco Mission World. He said volunteers, including board members, crisscrossed the Waco area in four-wheel-drive vehicles to pick up Jubilee employees needing a lift in the cold.

Calaway said volunteers also traveled to near McGregor on Wednesday to fetch a delivery of Mill-King milk short-circuited by a stalled vehicle. He said Mill-King made a delivery later in the day after putting its vehicle back in service.

Calls to the Meals on Wheels office Wednesday went unanswered. The Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce put out a call to its members, asking for donations of meals to employees at Baylor Scott & White Hillcrest Medical Center spending the night at the health care complex. Health center spokesperson Megan Snipes said later in an interview the community response was heartening, with Chick-fil-A, Subway and even the Texas A&M Forest Service office in McGregor delivering goodies. Texas A&M arrived with 288 pre-packaged meals.

Thompson, at H-E-B, asked customers to shop with patience. She said the selection of merchandise is lacking, as is the number of employees typically roaming H-E-B stores in Greater Waco. She said registers typically open may be unoccupied because of staff shortages, but asked that customers “shop with grace.”

The cold and poor driving conditions caused the Central Texas Food Bank to cancel a second week of food distributions after scratching last week’s distribution in Waco.

Spokesperson Paul Gaither said the icy conditions across the state had affected food deliveries, kept employees and volunteers from organizing and packing supplies and threatened both truck drivers and those venturing out to receive boxes of food. Staff members will be working this weekend to resume food distributions next week as temperatures warm and driving conditions improve, Gaither said.

Baylor University opened its Student Life Center for off-campus students needing a place with power, heat or water, with 57 students stopping in Tuesday and 49 of those spending the night, Baylor spokesperson Lori Fogleman said. On Wednesday, 32 students came in.

The Penland dorm’s dining hall was the only food service operating on campus, serving both students with a meal plan and students without one. Baylor’s student food pantry, The Store, also has remained open this week for students needing food or hygiene items.

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