Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis joined SHAPE Community Center officials in celebrating the completion of kitchen upgrades made possible by a $94,368 county grant Ellis secured for the Third Ward facility.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has shed light on existing inequalities in our communities, including access to healthy, affordable food,” said Ellis. “I’m pleased that we can assist SHAPE to continue its more than half century mission of feeding children and adults, especially during this time when food prices are skyrocketing due to the nation’s highest inflation in four decades.”
“The improvements coincide with SHAPE’s 53rd Founders’ Day that will be celebrated this week as the community center moves forward with programs and services that continue to make a substantial contribution to the economic impact of the Third Ward community,” said Shondra Muhammad, SHAPE’s deputy executive director.
The grant, approved by Commissioners Court in February, also allowed SHAPE to purchase and install 15 laptop and 15 desktop computers in its Marcos Mazula Technology Center, which is named after longtime SHAPE volunteer and children’s educational advocate who started the center’s first technology program.
“SHAPE is truly grateful for the service opportunities that this grant funding brings to Third Ward,” Muhammad said. “Additionally, the computer lab upgrades allow us to increase the enrollment of children into our new CAD (computer-aided design) and Robotics programs, which provide sustainable models, increasing the children’s higher education and career path opportunities.”
The grant funds will complement the services provided to SHAPE by Houston Community College (HCC) and Siemens USA, who are introducing students to CAD software, 3D printing and engineering pathways that are not always accessible to under-resourced communities.
“Computers and internet connectivity are no longer luxury items, but rather necessary tools to make sure our children can continue to learn,” said Ellis. “Together, this is a public, private and nonprofit effort to close the digital divide. It takes a team effort to meet the community’s needs and improve the quality of life for people of all ages.”
For the kitchen, the funds were used to purchase new flooring, counter, refrigerator, stove and fryer so SHAPE can continue providing meals weekly to children, adults and seniors.
“Upgrading our kitchen café expands our ability to serve the increasing number of people who are experiencing food insecurity, as we all recover from the effects of compounded disasters,” Muhammad said. “Working with the emerging entrepreneurs in our Kitchen Incubator Program, we will be able to host a community kitchen designed to provide healthy, hot meals to those in need.”
Ellis said food deserts are a chronic problem in our region, especially in low-income areas and communities of color.
“Access to healthy food is tied not only to key public health indicators, but to educational outcomes and job performance that help people lead healthy, productive lives,” said Ellis. “It all starts with food security and access to healthy foods.”