The City of Houston once again joined with their local partners to help area disadvantaged school children get ready for the new school year.
Now in its 11th year, the Mayor’s Back 2 School Fest at NRG Park was created to help those students whose families are financially stressed and in need of school supplies. Along with the Houston Food Bank and their title sponsor Shell, the city also partnered with Harris County Health Department to administer COVID-19 vaccines to area residents who wanted it.
“Now that we are seeing a surge in the Delta Variant, there’s more demand now, increasing a little bit, as people are realizing, ‘I need to get vaccinated,’” said Trey Frankovich, HCPH vaccine administrator. “The more people get vaccinated, the better it is for the city.”
Mayor’s Office of Special Events Director Susan Christian said the festival started at 8 a.m. on Aug. 14 and concluded by 4 p.m. She estimated there were more than 10,000 vehicles who came to NRG Park to get school supplies and potentially vaccines.
“In May, the federal government was able to ensure that the vaccines were safe for children ages 12 and over, so we wanted to encourage that here at this event,” she said “They are hitting about 100 cars per hour. They’re hoping to vaccinate about 1,300 people today.”
Christian also praised the Houston Food Bank, who began partnering with the city at the start of the pandemic, for their contributions of two larges boxes of food containing a variety of fresh produce, proteins and dry goods for each vehicle to address hunger needs.
“It’s also another way we can help stand up those in need. We have joined the Food Bank on many occasions, and they’ve been right here in NRG Park and they’ve been doing a lot of distributions. On this day, we are happy to welcome them as a partner again so that we can add to what all these families are getting,” she said.
Frankovich said the festival was an opportune time for residents to get their vaccines.
“We have folks who are coming here to get their food and back to school supplies, and they can do it all in one line; they don’t have to get in one line for the vaccine, get it and then get in another line for their school supplies and food,” he said.
Partnering with local businesses and non-profit organizations are essential, but nothing encapsulates the true spirit of “helping your neighbor” more than the volunteer efforts by area residents.
For Freje Randall, a professional dancer who divides her time between Houston and New York City, volunteering at the festival was her way of giving back to the community.
“I don’t have a lot of time, but I wanted to do something,” she said, as she helped load boxes of food into the back of vehicles.
Randall, who performed as a lead dancer for Houston R&B superstar Lizzo at the Grammy Awards last year, is also a student at the University of Houston and said she was drawn to volunteer to help with providing school supplies to children in need.
“I’m currently in college and I know school supplies middle, high school and elementary school students are so hard to get, especially now because of COVID. It’s always been hard for me to find school supplies in the store,” she said.
For Doe Florsheim, volunteering has become a full-time gig for her since she has retired.
“My husband I and worked at the food bank for about 30 weeks last year. This is incredibly important to give the food to the people who need it, don’t have any other place to turn,” she said.
Christian said Mayor Sylvester Turner visited the site earlier Saturday morning for several hours to lend his support.
“You know, he always says ‘yes’ and it’s what helps make him a great leader. The other part is his vision, and what he has is a great vision for us to help chart Houston’s way through some phenomenal odds,” she said.
She added that the success of the Back 2 School Fest highlighted how to successfully organize an event during a pandemic.
“One thing I am very clear about is we can put together outdoor events and we’ve been doing it throughout the pandemic, whether it be distribution events like this one. We’re still taking precautions and encouraging people to wear their masks when we are up close and personal outdoors as well as indoors. We want to practice what we preach,” Christian said.