Crisis of Hunger Looms During Winter Storm
By Clark Dalton
Reporting Texas TV
AUSTIN, Texas – When University of Texas at Austin student Ramray Wong opened his fridge only to find empty shelves, he immediately grew concerned.
“I was feeling a bit anxious,” Wong said. “I didn’t have a stock of food in my room. If I wanted food I had to go out and get it.”
Going out and getting that food would prove to be a major challenge.
On February 11th a huge winter storm struck Texas, forcing the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) to institute rolling blackouts on February 15. These blackouts were to protect a power grid that wasn’t prepared for cold weather.
As a result, many Texans were fighting through the storm without heat or electricity. The lack of electricity inhibited access to regular food. Without power, several items in refrigerators quickly spoiled and rendered cooking appliances useless.
This forced many to seek food from alternative sources. Sometimes, these efforts were to no avail.
“I was walking up and down Guadalupe only to find that all of the restaurants were closed,” Wong said. “I found one food truck by Dobie. It was covered by a line of 15-20 people who had been waiting for hours.”
Wong added that there were only two employees trying to attend to the group of people. He felt this was a moment where the severity of the situation registered in his mind.
Normal grocery stores became a frenzy as people began to race to shelves and vie for cans of soup and peanut butter.
“It was absolute chaos,” University of Texas student Matt Marinchak said. “I have never seen anything like that. There were people racing to lines, nearly knocking each other over, and a food aisle that was completely filled with people trying to get enough to eat.”
Another issue that several students faced were limitations in the cafeteria. Wong says that hours were shortened significantly, and even when it was open options were extremely limited. As a result, students had to seek food from other sources like food pantries.
One of the biggest resources for students on campus is the Outpost, which offers food and other goods for free. In spite of that, even the Outpost faced sudden challenges sparked by the winter storm.
“We didn’t have food coming in that week or the following week,” Outpost coordinator Will Ross said. “As a result, we had to collaborate with other food pantries and organizations to make sure we could support our students.”
Ross said the Outpost had to reach out to organizations like Micah 6 of Austin and The University of Texas police department to fill their shelves as quickly as possible.
“On that Thursday we were able to hand out a ton of food in two hours,” said Ross. “We also added a water option to our website to help students because we know water insecurity was a problem as well.”
Outpost has curbside pickup as well, but it’s not viable for everyone, especially for students who don’t live on campus.
Matt Marinchak was extremely concerned about his 25 minute drive from Buda to Austin on the icy roads.
“It was impossible,” Marinchak said. “I heard (Interstate) 35 roads were a mess. I probably couldn’t even have made it a mile past my apartment.”
It wasn’t just students who were struggling, so some students stepped up and bought goods for those in need.
“People were starving and dying,” University of Texas student Avery Sanov said. “I felt it was the right thing to do and an easy thing for me to do.”
Sanov said he and with a group of other anthropology students drove to houses and apartments to drop off much needed items.
“I remember at the last house we went to, the owner’s kids ran outside,” Sanov said. “They said thank you so much and I teared up a bit.”
Will Ross said efforts like this are important since it takes pressure off organizations and gets food to people as quickly as possible.
As for Wong, he’s still adjusting to the problems thrust upon him by the storm.
“You’re anxious about meeting your needs, but also what’s gonna happen next,” Wong said. “All of it is now based behind this survival instinct.”