The closure of schools to COVID-19 hit homeless kids especially hard, even as districts continued food distribution in various ways. With school out for the summer, their brains are hungry too.
At Dallas’ Incarnation House on McKinney Avenue near downtown, dozens of grocery bags are getting stuffed with fresh and canned foods. The food’s expected to help recipients get through the next week so they don’t go hungry.
This is a typical Wednesday at the Incarnation House, which is designed to help homeless high school students at North Dallas High School across the street. All the typical routines though have changed, says Evelyn Costolo.
“Technically speaking, we’re an after-school program. However, we all came back from spring break with a whole new world,” Costolo said.
Costolo runs the nonprofit Incarnation House. During the school year, the program feeds and teaches kids before and after class – kids whose parents lack a permanent address. This summer, though, they’ve never really closed.
“We created this pantry program,” says Costolo. “And we have been doing at-home delivery on a weekly basis so that that was not a worry in the home.”
Seventeen-year-old Bertedria Promise, newly minted North Dallas High graduate, welcomes these weekly deliveries. She stands outside the apartment where she lives with her mom and aunt, as the truck carrying the groceries idles in the background.
“I just feel like it’s a blessing to have food and other people around us to help us during the pandemic,” Bertedria says.
One of those people who is around is Bryan Jackson. He provides full-time security for Incarnation House. After a few years on the job, he got to know all the students, so he was a natural fit to deliver the food.
“Some of the areas we go to are really bad,” says Jackson, “and I wouldn’t want any of the ladies to deliver there because it’s not really the best neighborhoods to be in.”
Jackson figures he’s a big guy and can take care of himself. At the same time, he worries about the students and their families taking care of themselves, in these tough times. Many were already on the edge, which is why they found Incarnation House in the first place.
“A lot of them,” explains Jackson, “the only time they’ll eat a fresh meal, a hot meal, is if it’s here or at school. Well if there’s no school, they’re already missing out on that meal.”
About 25 families a week get food deliveries from Incarnation House. On this particular day, a family showed up in person. Sophia Silbas lives in the nearby Budget Motel with her 17 year-old son and 12-year-old daughter. She works at an elder care facility.
“My son attends the Incarnation House after school,” Silbas says. “And they’ve been helping us a lot, since school has ended. Resources, food, clothing…”
Living in a motel qualifies the family as homeless. Though they’re struggling financially, Silbas risks her life every day working at the elder care facility.
“We actually have two full hallways of COVID-19-positive patients. I have six staff members that tested positive,” Silbas says. “Thankfully I am not one of them. We have a staff member that passed away. We have residents pass on a regular basis.”
Silbas has her own high-risk medical conditions, including heart disease and a previous stroke. Changing jobs in the middle of a pandemic is out of the question. The Incarnation House has offered stability for her and her kids, including son Kevin Crockett. He just finished his junior year.
“It’s been a really cool place for me to hang out,” says Kevin, “and they feed me and give me a ride home after practice, get to hang out with all my friends.”
Kevin says this place also helped settle him down after the family moved into the motel and his mother got sick. Incarnation House board chair Dianne LaRoe says staffers learned early that these kids needed more than breakfast once a week, which is how it all started more than five years ago.
“We would feed them,” says LaRoe, “you know breakfast, and we got to know them and sit down at tables with them and chat and find out what their needs were. We discovered they don’t just need food, they need all kinds of things. So we started evolving and developing and I could never turn my back on those kids again.”
School may be out for the summer, but no one knows what classes will look like this fall.
LaRoe says even though she’s not sure what’ll happen next for kids this organization serves, she figures Incarnation House, and its students will keep evolving.