In the midst of preparing to expand its building, the Pearland Neighborhood Center is working to meet a surging demand from residents seeking services such as food donations and help with utility bills and rent.
“Our services have increased dramatically with COVID-19,” said Debbie Rubestello, PNC’s executive director. “Our food pantry has increased because at least 75 percent more families are needing help.”
Since the pandemic hit, call volume at the PNC have skyrocketed as residents face job loss and evictions and struggle to provide for basic family needs. The center is calling for donations of money, nonperishable food, baby items, cleaning supplies and personal protective equipment to distribute to the community.
‘It breaks my heart’
Rubestello said the situation has taken a toll on her and her colleagues.
What: A nonprofit organization providing community services to those in need including utility and rent assistance, a food pantry and disaster relief.
Where: 2335 N. Texas Ave., Pearland
Hours: Monday through Thursday: from 8 a.m. to noon and 1-5 p.m. Friday: from 8 a.m. to noon.
Contact: 281-485-1987, [email protected]
“My staff and I have had to learn how to deal with so many situations. It’s really emotionally hard on us to see our clients and our seniors struggle, and we can only do so much,” she said. “It breaks my heart knowing they have loss of income or even have COVID-19. I think we cry more often than ever.”
The PNC staff continues to practice social distancing, working with clients via phone, email and fax, and members distribute food outside rather than indoors. These protocols will be in place until the area records a steady decrease in positive coronavirus case number for 14 days.
But as the need has increased, so has the giving from the community.
Helped by teen ‘superheroes’
Local dentist Dr. Hugh Patton hosted a food drive after the pandemic began to impact the area and after the the staff worked remotely for seven weeks while the center’s building was closed. And, PNC continues to receive community donations and food collections via local teenagers Stephan and Isaiah Torres, who entertain children as Pearland’s Drive-By Heroes. The duo, along with friend Jasmine Saenz, dress as superheroes and stop by children’s homes for special occasions and to brighten their days. Their service is free, but they ask for donations for the Pearland Neighborhood Center.
Rubestello said the response has been amazing.
“Once, in less than two weeks, these teens donated nearly 2,000 pounds of food.”
Attempts to reach the teens by presstime were unsuccessful.
Expansion plans back on track
All this has been happening while plans have restarted to expand the center’s food pantry by 1,500 square feet. In January, Pearland City Council authorized approximately $125,000 for the project. However, when the pandemic hit last spring, PNC was forced to put its construction on hold.
Even before COVID-19 reared its ugly head in the United States and the need for food donations grew, room at the center’s food pantry already was tight, and staff was sometimes forced to turn away food donations. However, once the expansion is complete, that won’t be an issue.
“I’m going to be able to serve more families and have larger volunteer groups,” Rubestello said.
Now, work is ongoing to complete all the construction paperwork, including securing necessary permits and an environmental review ahead of the planned construction. Ground breaking on the new facility is expected for Sept. 22.
The center, a community fixture since 1987, is open from 8 a.m. until noon and from 1-5 p.m. Monday through Thursday and from 8 a.m. until noon Fridays.
Rubestello said she’s eager for times to return to normal.
“My heart goes out to our community during these tough times,” she said. “I pray every day for all of us for good health and peace. I hold my clients very dearly in my heart and can’t wait for the day to be able to give my seniors the hugs that they look forward to.”
For more information or to donate, call the Pearland Neighborhood Center at 281-485-1987 or 281-942-7382 or visit pnctexas.com.