Just six month ago, the Tim Cole memorial statue on 19th Street and University Avenue was bustling with Black Lives Matter protests.
Tyler Hardy was a regular at the protests. Between the economic strife caused by the pandemic and the racial injustices seen across the nation, Hardy was restless. So, he started walking to unwind – his starting point was always the Tim Cole statue.
He started walking to the “Peace on the East” walks, led by AJ McCleod, which were five miles from his starting point. Then he attended another solidarity walk that began by the Lubbock Police Station and ended at Citizen’s Tower. As hundreds of people gathered, Hardy noticed something.
“There were so many homeless people,” he recalled, “If we all just chipped in a dollar maybe all these people could have a meal for the night.”
That thought stuck with him. He started carrying food with him to the weekly walks with AJ and would pass it out to the homeless people he saw on the way.
Eventually, a ritual began.
Every Tuesday at 4 p.m. on the dot, you’ll find Hardy at the memorial. He waits 15 minutes to see if anyone shows up before he sets out on his two-mile trek to the Salvation Army.
As he makes his way down 19th Street he spots a man across the street sitting outside of a pizza shop. Dodging the oncoming traffic, he runs over to him.
Food insecurity has risen statewide since the start of the pandemic. According to a recent report from the Census Bureau over two and half million people reported sometimes or often not having enough to eat. That number was less than 2 million at the beginning of March.
As a professional musician, Hardy has been hit especially hard by the pandemic. He sold a lot of his belongings and downsized his apartment to save money. Still, he buys what he can to give out. He hands the man a rolled-up bag containing a granola bar, fruit bar and a tangerine. This week he found a bundle of ten ponchos on sale as well.
Shortly before 5 p.m., he makes it to the Salvation Army where his spouse and their two friends meet him. There’s already a line of around 20 people waiting for a hot meal. Hardy and his team get to work handing out their donated goods—water, Gatorade, snacks and clothes.
At the East Lubbock Art House, Danielle East has converted two broken refrigerators into 24/7 community pantries. She’s giving a short tour of the community fridges when a woman walks up to grab a small supply of food.
They installed the donated refrigerators on November 28. “They have free food,” East explained, “It’s just take what you need leave what you don’t.” The art house had been giving out free food when they could and they wanted to grow that mission, without needing extra staff. This was their solution.
East said over $700 worth of food was donated through the community fridges in the first five days. That alone demonstrates the need in Lubbock, according to Jessica Tuller Caroom, who is the steering committee chair for the South Plains Hunger Solutions Coalition.
“The fact that Tyler is finding people that need help. The fact that Danielle put out that fridge and it was empty,” Caroom said, “Shows that we’ve barely scratched the surface. If the food had just sat there, that tells you something. But it didn’t.”
Caroom also sits on the board of the South Plains Food Bank. Since the beginning of the pandemic, they’ve seen a steady uptick in clients—especially since the second wave of COVID cases. “We were averaging around a thousand boxes a week to give out,” said Vanessa Morelion, the director of development. “Now we’re averaging almost two thousand boxes a week.”
That volume is not going to break anytime soon. According to their most recent report, the South Plains Food Bank projects an additional 58,000 people will be thrown into food insecurity in their region due to the pandemic—nationally, the food bank expects another 17.1 million.
With less volunteer staff and a heavier workload, the organization is spread thin. So, hearing about the efforts of individuals like Hardy and East makes her smile. “Hearing that is amazing because here at the food bank as much as we’d like to help everybody, we’re constricted.” On an individual level, she said, a dollar goes a long way to help others. “Nothing is going to stop our neighbors from helping neighbors.”