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How To Help — And Find Help — As The Coronavirus Surges In Texas During The Holiday Season

Volunteers with the Central Texas Food Bank distribute food to those in need at Lehman High School in Kyle on Nov. 14. Several organizations are providing help — and asking for assistance — as coronavirus infections increase heading into the holidays. Credit: Jordan Vonderhaar for The Texas Tribune

By Yasmeen Khalifa and Megan Menchaca, The Texas Tribune

Food banks and nonprofits are providing free meals, internet access and housing assistance. As they face an increase in demand during another coronavirus surge, the organizations are also asking for help.

As Texans face  another surge in coronavirus infections, many people are finding themselves stuck at home in the midst of the holiday season with  no income or access to necessary resources like food or medical services.

In response to growing concerns around the nation, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a  nationwide moratorium on evictions that took effect in early September. It protects renters from losing their home through Dec. 31.

Food banks, nonprofits and some local pantries are providing free meals for people and asking for donations and volunteers as they face a significant increase in demand. Texans also have access to a variety of other resources, including rent and utility assistance and free internet. Here’s a list.

Food near me: How can I get meals?

Texans who meet certain income eligibility guidelines can  apply for various federal benefit programs. The  Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program provides money for food, and the  Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children provides resources for pregnant women and people with children younger than 5.

Feeding Texas has  a website where people can find food banks that can provide free groceries and a place to sign up for SNAP benefits. The organization is also asking for donations  here, as the number of families seeking assistance from Texas food banks has  doubled since March.

Local chapters of the Salvation Army in Texas are also offering a variety of services, including shelter, addiction services and food pantries. Texans can donate directly to the Salvation Army Texas on  its website or to their local chapters, which can be found  here.

The  Meals on Wheels Texas website allows Texans to search for local chapters providing meals to elderly individuals that can be picked up or home delivered. Local chapters are also looking for volunteers and certain items to be donated. Specific needs can be found on the local chapters’ websites.

Little Free Pantry is a nationwide network of local pantries providing food and resources to people experiencing food insecurity. Texans can find a map of pantries in their area  here or list their own pantry if they would like to start one.

Texas medical supplies and services

The Texas Association of Community Health Centers has   a page where people can search for community health centers, health center networks and other providers serving the uninsured in Texas. To prevent the spread of COVID-19, many centers are asking patients to call first before coming in.

Texans  can call 2-1-1 and select option 6 for questions about COVID-19 and local resources on health care, utilities, food, housing and more. Or they can visit the Texas Health and Human Services Commission's  website to learn more about health services like low-cost or free health coverage for children, health programs for low-income families and services for Texas women. Various counties across Texas also have websites with public health information and local hotlines for COVID-19 questions and virtual screenings.

As hospitals resume surgical procedures and patient treatments that were temporarily paused due to the pandemic, the American Red Cross is urging people to give blood to avoid potential blood shortages. People can sign up to give at various locations in Texas  here.

For mental health support related to COVID-19, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission created a  24/7 statewide toll-free phone number at 833-986-1919.

Healthy Texas Women offers  women's health and family planning services at no cost to eligible women in Texas, and the  Texas Nurse-Family Partnership pairs nurses who specialize in maternal and child health with low-income, first-time mothers.

Texas unemployment benefits: How to file

The Texas Tribune and ProPublica have created a guide to help people who have lost their jobs  navigate the unemployment benefits system in Texas.

Texans whose employment has been affected by the new coronavirus can apply for benefits using  Unemployment Benefits Services or call 800-939-6631 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day for assistance.

Many Texans are also using Facebook support groups like  Texas Unemployment Updates and  Unemployment Texas Information and Help to share resources and information on applying for unemployment benefits and finding work.

Rent relief and housing assistance

211 Texas and the  Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs allows Texans to select their location and the type of help they need, leading to a list of resources in the region including rent, utility, food and housing assistance.

The Texas Apartment Agency compiled a list of organizations that can assist with  emergency housing needs and household expenses by county or region. Scroll to the bottom of the PDF to find the area you live in and browse available financial resources.

If you are experiencing or at risk of experiencing homelessness, you can search free and reduced cost services like housing, medical care and food in your area through the Texas Homeless Network's  website.

There are several information and advocacy centers in Texas targeting the needs of low-income families and underserved communities.  Texas Housers provides low-income housing information services, and the  Texas State Affordable Housing Corporation has affordable housing programs to help people find homes.  Texas Tenant's Union focuses on preserving renters' homes and educating them on their rights as tenants. And  Merced Housing Texas provides affordable housing for individuals and families, as well as supportive services.

Need Help Paying Bills has a list of organizations on its website offering housing support or eviction prevention services throughout the state of Texas, including emergency housing and homeless shelters.

Internet, diapers and more: Other resources

Comcast is providing free Xfinity Wi-Fi hotspots around the nation. People can find hotspots  here and then select the “xfinitywifi” network. T-Mobile also started  Project 10Million to give families who don’t have an internet connection and are enrolled in the National School Lunch program 100GB of mobile data per year and a free mobile hotspot, if selected.

Aunt Bertha is a nationwide website with a searchable index of a variety of free support services, such as food banks and health care. Texans can search for services in their area by typing in their ZIP code.

The State Bar of Texas has  a hotline at 800-504-7030 to connect Texans with legal service providers, who can give assistance with bankruptcy and debt-collection matters, unemployment applications and other civil legal problems.

Texas Diaper Bank is  sending diapers to babies, seniors and others who need them. They  are looking for monetary donations or diapers, menstrual pads and other products.

Check out these helpful guides on how to get help:

West Texas:  West Texas Food Bank prepares for 2020 holiday demand, via Newswest 9

West Texas:  Resources for West Texas and S.E. New Mexico during the COVID-19 Pandemic, via Newswest 9.

Check out these helpful guides on how you can help others:

El Paso:  Blood donations, food bank volunteers needed as El Paso faces coronavirus fears, via El Paso Times

Statewide:  10 ways to help your fellow Texans endure the coronavirus pandemic, via Texas Observer

Statewide:  How to help Texas restaurant and bar employees during the pandemic, via Texas Monthly

What are we missing? Email Yasmeen Khalifa at ykhalifa@texastribune.org.

Disclosure: Comcast, El Paso Times, Facebook, Feeding Texas, State Bar of Texas, Texas Association of Community Health Centers and Texas Monthly have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete  list of them here.