Friends of Conroe hosts the annual Friends Feeding Friends event

Home care nurse Becky Castillo wanted to make sure that some of her patients whose families couldn’t spend time with them had a Thanksgiving meal.

On her day off on a rainy Thursday morning, Castillo turned to Friends of Conroe, a nonprofit organization that was expected to provide thousands of meals in Montgomery County over the holidays through its Friends Feeding Friends program.

“I just want to help them out and make their day a little more lively,” Castillo said as she picked up four plates outside the nonprofit’s Main Street headquarters. Plates were loaded with traditional Thanksgiving fare, from turkey, ham, dressing, green beans, mashed potatoes and gravy, to bread and cake.

He said he found out about the food collection site, one of three organized by the nonprofit, through social media. Volunteers also distributed food at Caney Creek Cowboy Church and Knights of Columbus Hall in Willis, where some seating was provided. This year, the group also worked with Meals on Wheels to deliver food to families.

At headquarters, the line to pick up began around 9 am, an hour and a half before the scheduled food delivery date. The pickup was scheduled to continue until 1:30. At Caney Creek Cowboy Church, food ran out around noon.

The nonprofit’s co-chair, Jodi Willard, began her day at the center at 6:30 a.m. Thursday, while Friends of Conroe volunteers began cooking the turkey and ham at 10 p.m. Wednesday. .

Like every year, Willard said, the need is always there.

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With price increases due to inflation, he said community members “really felt that hit,” noting that people contacted the organization on its Facebook page about providing meals.

“That’s something we’re honored to be able to do for their families,” he said.

Kristi Leggett, president of the organization’s Sounds of Texas music series, said some residents may have felt pressured not to take time off work even to go shopping. COVID-19 was also a significant stress, she said.

“I think the universal stress on everyone over the last two years has also compiled,” he said.

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This year, the organization distributed 3,000 meals. In recent years, between 2,500 and 3,000 meals were distributed, and the largest number of meals distributed was last year: 4,000 meals.

The organization also delivered 128 meals and canned goods to seniors, helping Meals on Wheels of Montgomery County.

“That’s a partnership we’ve wanted to establish for a long time,” said Leggett, who has been a part of the organization for 18 years. “We heard they weren’t delivering hot meals on Thanksgiving. So being able to provide our seniors with a real Thanksgiving meal…means a lot to us.”

A couple of seniors not associated with Meals on Wheels also called the organization to see if they could also get a Thanksgiving meal, said Tammy Gracey, the organization’s treasurer and event co-chair.

She said that even though those seniors are not associated with Meals on Wheels, they still made a plate for them.

“They’re in a position where they can’t just walk out,” Gracey said. “So we (have) taken care of them.”

Gracey said it’s been a little different each year.

The organization first partnered with The Salvation Army five years ago, where Amigos de Conroe cooked everything and The Salvation Army hosted the food at their Conroe location. Music would be played to get people into a festive spirit, and an area would be set up for children to play.

In 2020, the nonprofit had to adjust to COVID-19 protocols, marking the first year the organization transitioned to takeout, which had been well-received, Gracey said.

“I think a lot of people would rather just drive and pick up, then go home and have their little private dinners with their families,” he said.

Another change from previous years is that the organization wanted to diversify, he said, noting that not everyone can make it downtown. So the organization opened what they call “outside” locations to provide meals to people across the county.

Gracey said the organization is still associated with The Salvation Army and sends out 300 to 400 plaques when needed.

The cost runs to $15,000 each year, and Friends of Conroe foots most of the bill. Businesses and organizations like Sams Club, HEB and Waverly Station Cowboy Church also helped with the cost this year.

Leggett is among 50 community members who have volunteered this year.

Leggett said her family has been involved with the organization since it began handing out food on Thanksgiving, when it was part of the annual Community Outreach Dinner.

The first year he served with his children, Jackson and Katie, 17-year-old twins.

“It was one of those things… (the children) were getting old,” she said, noting her desire for her children to serve others before serving themselves at Christmas. “There was some grunting and groaning and everything. We went and poured all day. And every time we’d get in the car, (they’d ask) ‘can we do this every year?'”

He called the organization along with the volunteers who return each year his “extended family.”

Gracey said she was grateful that the organization is still able to give back and host these events every year.

“God has blessed me,” he said. “And I’m grateful that it’s allowed me to be able to… do these kinds of things and be a blessing to other people.”

Daisy Morales was also grateful.

He was driving downtown when he saw volunteers outside the organization’s headquarters, with coolers and plates set up around them.

“The reason we came here is to show our gratitude and be thankful…for (the volunteers) being here on their day off,” he said, as he received five plates for his family. “Not many people do that.”

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