By Sahar Chmais
In the hustle and bustle of a barbecue disaster relief event, the lash of storm Uri and COVID-19 were almost forgotten in Buda. In the six-day event, over 31,000 meals were served to Hays County residents.
The feeding effort had a small trial run on Feb. 20 and Feb. 21, where Tito’s Barbecue team partnered with the Central Texas Veterans Center and gave 5,000 meals to everyone who came. Seeing the success of the barbecue, a decision to expand the effort was made. Within 72 hours, a new relief effort was set.
“Once we had done the first weekend, we started finding out about a much greater need of underserved populations,” said Cassaundra Melgar-C’De Baca, creator of the program and CEO of the F7 Group. “[A need] from the older population, the disabled and many who are not on social media. We also found there were still people without power and water.”
Mission Buda Cares was born out of this need. It was organized by the F7 Group, Buda Area Chamber of Commerce (BACC) and Texas Firewalkers. Support organizations in the mission were CenTex VSO Alliance, Operation BBQ Relief and the City of Buda. From Feb. 25 through Feb. 28, over 26,000 meals were served.
Most of the meals were ordered online, but some were hand-delivered to older adults.
“I called everybody on my phone list to see who wanted food; about 20 people wanted it,” said Erlinda Cano, a 67-year-old woman living in Onion Creek Village. “They brought us big trays and served the plates on Saturday and Sunday.”
Cano said that on Saturday, District 45 Representative Erin Zwiener made a food delivery to the residents. The next day, executive director of BACC, J.R. Gonzales showed up with Buda council member Evan Ture to drop off the food.
Although this effort spread hot meals to the community, Melgar-C’De Baca believes the disaster relief effort made a much bigger social impact. The community stepped up with many asking what they can give.
Some women in Sunfield cooked for the volunteers, Melgar-C’De Baca said. Some neighbors were getting food to their neighbors who may not have known about the barbecue or could not make it. But these were people who may have never even spoken to their neighbors before, enhancing the beauty of the gesture, she explained.
“People nowadays hardly know their neighbor and I think people crave that,” Melgar-C’De Baca said. “But the bigger picture was we brought communities closer together. I think it will create an ongoing thing. We all need human interaction and community.”
The sense of volunteerism proved strong in Buda. According to Melgar-C’De Baca, there were two similar barbecue events in Houston, but Buda had more volunteers than both Houston areas combined.
All ages were helping serve in Buda; from an 89-year-old woman to Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts , people rolled up their sleeves to give their support.
Witnessing the connections and the capacity to give, Melgar-C’De Baca said the mission of connection will continue. Gardening programs, sewing programs and motorcycle groups were receiving more contenders through the socialization of the event.
Not only Hays County residents benefited from Mission Buda Cares – animals also received some help.
When an animal caregiver does not know where their next meal may come from, chances are their pets are in a similar situation. To publicize an ongoing free pet food opportunity, flyers for the food were passed around the barbecue.
The pet food, from Pet Supplies Plus, is donated by the community and it is an ongoing effort. About 10 to 15 vouchers are processed a day, said store owner Jared Lasetter.
To find out how to get free pet food and supplies, or how to donate, call Pet Supplies Plus at 512-523-8411.
“We know there is an immediate need because of the storm,” Lasetter said. “We will stop doing vouchers when people stop showing up.”