As dangerous winter conditions and power outages continue to impact parts of the country, local restaurants and aid groups are working together to help keep Texas residents fed.
A winter storm has set record-low temperatures in major cities across the state; some areas have reported seeing single-digit and below-zero temperatures at night. According to NBC News, the weather put too much strain on the state's power systems, and as of Wednesday, more than three million Texans are dealing with rolling power outages or total blackouts. Some have lost access to heat, water and gas. Icy roads make it difficult to drive, and many stores and restaurants have had to close their doors amid the dangerous conditions.
Brenda Snitzer, the executive director of the Stewpot, an organization that works with people who are homeless in Dallas, Texas, said that the group ramped up its food distribution efforts during the pandemic and has increased it even more during the freezing weather. The organization has helped shelter nearly 1,000 people in a local convention center and has several hundred more people in shelters and hotels around the city.
"We've been working with (religious organizations) and shelters and restaurants and caterers," Snitzer said. "We're all working together to make sure that we've got breakfast, lunch and dinner covered … We've giving out food and ready-made meals, as well as cooking."
Snitzer said that the "majority" of the people they have assisted are people who are homeless. The Stewpot has been working in collaboration with other local organization, including the Salvation Army, the Union Gospel Mission, the Muslim American Society and more to make sure that as many people as possible are fed and sheltered.
"All of us have been working during this inclement weather," Snitzer said. "When we knew the weather was going to get so bad, we all pulled together … and figured out what we needed to do."
In some areas, people are turning to mutual aid, a system where people work collaboratively to get the necessary resources to others. Becca Taute, one of the administrators of a private, free-food–sharing Facebook page serving Austin, Texas, said that she has seen lots of individual people and mutual aid networks "mobilizing" to help people stay safe and fed.
"Lots and lots of people are stuck without power or water or food or all three," Taute told TODAY. "I've been using the free-food–sharing group, other private groups and Buy Nothing groups to help connect people who are within walking distance and can bring donations or help house those who are without power or heat."
In some parts of the state, community fridges, where people can leave non-perishable goods and other items to be taken by others as needed, are also operating. While there is some difficulty stocking and accessing them during the cold weather, at least one community fridge in Fort Worth, Texas has been operational. The group behind the fridge shares updates on social media about what is available.
Local restaurants have also been cooking meals and sharing supplies with those in need. Lynzy Moran, who operates two food trucks in Austin, said she started cooking meals when she saw another local group, Runner City, was collecting donations of food, winter supplies and more to give to vulnerable people in the city.
"I hit them up like, 'Hey, can I fry a bunch of chicken for y'all?' because one of my trucks is fried chicken trailer," Moran told TODAY. "On Saturday, they came, and I sent over 100 hot boxes of fried chicken for them to hand out. And then I saw they were still going, driving through ice and snow and going above and beyond trying to keep everybody fed, so I went ahead and made another 240 meals of hot chowder. And once again they came and picked it up and distributed it."
Moran said that once the roads iced over, she no longer trusted herself to drive, but on Tuesday, she saw that the group was running into trouble trying to feed so many people with stores closed.
"I sent them to my food truck, I sent them the access code and I had them take all the meat out of it, as they needed," she said, adding that she also sent food and cooking supplies to an employee who lost power. "Everybody is just pulling resources, pulling together what they have and doing what they can."
Other restaurants across the state have been open to provide free meals or a warm space for people if their own homes are too cold. Mighty Chick, a chicken restaurant in Watauga, Texas wrote on Facebook that it made the sudden decision to open on Tuesday when customers "kept coming" and saying they "hadn't had any power and water for (a) couple of days."
"It seemed like we could be the only restaurant open in this area, so (we) couldn't turn them back," wrote the establishment on Facebook.
Austin Vietnamese restaurant Sip Pho, said they're offering free meals to first responders. Qana Cafe, a Lebanese restaurant in Fort Worth, stated on Facebook that they would be "open to the neighborhood" and offer free meals to those in need.
World Central Kitchen, chef Jose Andres' not-for-profit food relief organization, told TODAY that it started serving food in Houston, Texas on Tuesday afternoon, providing hundreds of meals to seniors and those in shelters.
Snitzer said that it has been "incredible" to watch organizations come together to keep people fed and safe during the icy weather.
"It's just been wonderful seeing how giving people are," she said. "When they know there's a need, people show up. People are showing up (at the convention center) saying, 'I want to help,' and they're volunteering. It's just a really good feeling."
"At this point, the community is helping the community," said Moran. "I'm super grateful to see everybody else doing this … I'm so grateful that other people can be driving around and helping distribute necessities to survive."