When other people started working from home during the coronavirus pandemic, Valerie Hawthorne of Stevens Park shifted to working long hours all day in the field, helping to provide food to people who need it.
“Normally I get to work from home,” she says.
Hawthorne is the North Texas Food Bank director of government relations, and she recently also took on the position of interim director of community and partner relations.
Now she’s working more than 12 hours a day with no days off. She leaves the house at about 5:30 a.m. and returns around 6 p.m. After dinner, she answers emails until bedtime.
On Monday morning, we found her at Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship, where the Army National Guard was helping to distribute food to hundreds of families. Cars snake around the church parking lot, trunks popped. Each one is assigned a number based on the family’s needs, and National Guard soldiers load boxes of groceries into their cars as they pull up.
About 100-200 families per day picked up food before coronavirus, Hawthorne. At one recent distribution, they served 969 families, Hawthorne says. The food bank is hosting two distribution sites like this one around North Texas five days a week. The food bank sees as much as six times the normal daily traffic, she says.
About 70% of the people receiving aid from the North Texas Food Bank have never needed help with food before.
Individuals have donated almost $250,000 to the food bank since the crisis began, but that’s not enough to fill the demand. Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said Friday that he’s requested $35 million in food aid for the North Texas Food Bank.
“That’s how much we need just to catch up,” Jenkins said.
This is quite an operation. Is this how the food bank normally distributes food?
Normally we have walk-up. It’s kind of like a farmers market where people can choose what they want. But now it’s all very no-touch, low-touch, and we have it all packed up into kits and placed in their trunks.
Why did we need the National Guard to step in?
Normally we rely on volunteers, but many of our regular volunteers are in the vulnerable population. Today we have 15 from the National Guard, three employees of NTFB and five volunteers from Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship. The National Guard really contributes to the discipline and strategy that’s needed in this situation.
How long have you worked for the North Texas Food Bank?
Two and a half years. But before this, I was at the Houston Food Bank. In Houston, food emergencies like this are more common because they have flooding and hurricanes.
How many kids do you have?
I have twins, Zane and Lily. They’re 10 years old and in the fifth grade at Rosemont.
How are you handling childcare?
My husband, Jason. He’s doing everything. Shopping, meals, homeschool and working from home. He works for Exxon-Mobil, and he knew from the very beginning what this was going to look like for me because of our time in Houston.
What are your days like?
By the time I get home, I’m so exhausted. When the crisis first started, I was leaving at 5 a.m. because we were setting up a temporary warehouse. And that was nonstop all day. Now it’s more like 5:30. I’m out here until 1, and then I’m doing emails and answering questions until bedtime. I had no idea it was going to be cold today. I don’t look at the news because it’s too emotional and distracting. I can’t focus on that. I need to focus on this. All that matters is the demand, and whether we’re meeting that demand.