Thursday, October 28, 2010

Feeding A Need

Around the time I 1st bought my house in the Heights, roughly 6 years ago, the rhetoric about the neighborhood involved a lot of "Do you think it will be safe?" or "Well, what are you going to do when you have kids?" Granted, these types of questions mostly came from work associates who lived in the suburbs, but it was indicative of the times and looking back now shows how much times have changed. The reputation of a neighborhood takes time to catch up with the reality of what that neighborhood is, so while it was safe and family oriented in 2004 people outside the Beltway didn't really know that until recently. Now, when I say I live in the Heights, I get lots of "Oooo, I love the Heights" and "Oh, I hear that is a wonderful area." This new reputation has it's pros and cons, to be sure (and I know I don't need to spell those out for you), but the neighborhood deserves the positivity. I do still miss rolling my eyes at those questions though.

However, even as we get close to the end of that "gentrification" cycle, we remain a mixed neighborhood. In many parts of the Heights, or very close by, working class families live next to young professions and middle class families. Poor in one house, not poor in the next. While the Heights Blvd walking path may be a great place to scope out the latest and greatest baby gear, in other parts of our own neighborhood, families are struggling to put food on their tables.

Luckily, families and individuals in need have a place where they can get some of the basic things the rest of us take for granted. The Heights Interfaith Ministries Food Bank is where neighbors help neighbors; those with more in the Heights can help those with less in the Heights.

The Heights Food Bank, a collaboration of Christ the King Catholic, St. Mark's United Methodist, The Vinyard and Zion Lutheran Churches in the Heights, serves families and individuals in need on a weekly basis. The majority of their clients are what are known as "the working poor"- people who work but are living paycheck to paycheck, having trouble paying their bills and providing basic food and household needs at the same time. Demand has increased at the Food Bank in recent months due to a shaky economy. Many local families are struggling as one or both parents take a cut in income or lose their job altogether. And, of course, then there is the fact that donations are dropping for the same reasons.

The shelf for orange juice sits empty. Juice is one of the high demand products. It still amazes me that a family can get a 2 liter of soda for $.99 but the cost of a healthy alternative is prohibitive.

The Pantry opened it's doors in June of 2009. Since opening, they have served the needs of 16,644 people from zip codes 77008 and 77009. They expect the number to increase significantly by this time in 2011. In just the last couple of months, the number of clients (family units or individuals) coming on Saturdays has doubled. The Pantry is providing for 70-100 clients a week. One thing that surprised me is that when you look at the monthly numbers, there is no double dipping. A client can only come by the Pantry every 30 days. The one exception to this is the homeless population. Homeless are welcome to come more often for several reasons, one being that they typically take a very small amount, only enough to last a couple days at a time.

A dry erase board keeps a tally of the clients the Pantry serves. In their 1st year, 2009, they served just over 6100 people. They have served that many almost twice over again this year and demand is growing. The happy heart on the bottom reminds us that, as a local organization, this is "Neighbors helping Neighbors."

When the doors open on a typical Saturday morning, there will already be families waiting. At the door, they are issued a number, keeping order as more families and individuals arrive. When their number is called, a volunteer will escort them to an interview area. The family will have to present both a photo ID and a bill or piece of mail showing their 77008-77009 address. While the intention is to serve these zip codes, Co-Director of Operations Alice Bongers says they never turn anyone away and occasionally get someone from outside the area. Still, helping people means helping all people and who could turn away someone in need?

After their client card is created, they talk with the volunteer about their needs and a food authorization ticket is issued. The ticket will list the number of adults and children in the family, what their biggest needs are and also some small details like are they driving or walking, which can make a big difference in what they are able to take. Alice says that paying attention to these small details makes a big difference in how well the Pantry serves its clients.

A recent donation of 12,000 LBS of pork patties and ground beef had Alice giddy as a school girl. She couldn't wait to show me the newly stocked fridge which had been sitting empty just a few days before. While 12k LBS is undoubtably a huge donation and a real boon, it will only last the Pantry about 4 weeks.

Alice says that the clients are often eager to show their appreciation for the help the Pantry offers. The Pantry is a 100% volunteer organization, not one paid staff member. Often, volunteer needs are filled by their clients as a way to give back and say "thank you." They are in need of volunteers at any time, especially bi-lingual speakers to assist with the interview process. If you have a couple hours on a Saturday, the Heights Pantry could really use your help. If Saturdays don't work, Alice and her volunteers work when they can and she is open to finding a way to use your time.

Volunteer Mary O'Sullivan worked with Alice mid-day on a Wednesday. I just happened to call and see about dropping off some bags, lucky to find them there. Sorting donations is just one of the many areas where you (and your family) can volunteer to help your neighbors.

  • Pasta sauce
  • Canned soups- especially with pull tab tops
  • Canned vegetables
  • Soap and toiletries
  • Tampons and feminine hygiene products
  • Diapers
Pasta with sauce is an easy and filling meal for a family. These staples are always in high demand and low supply at the Pantry.

While the Pantry does not necessarily collect clothes, they will take donations of items in good condition. Clothing is laid out and clients are able to "shop" it, taking a few useful items for their family.

Unlike some other food pantries, Heights Interfaith Ministries Food Pantry gladly accepts perishable items like fresh veggies and meat. St Mark's Church actually has a garden that grows some veggies for the Pantry. They have also partnered with Urban Harvest for some donations but fresh fruit and vegetables are something that is so out of reach cost-wise for many low income families. If you can grab a couple of large bags of apples at Costco, you can help a lot of families get something healthy in the cupboards!

Canned soups are another high demand item. The Pantry volunteers try to keep the ones with pop tops for the homeless, who may not have access to can openers. Other easy open, shelf stable foods are also appreciated.

The Heights Interfaith Food Pantry
3523 Beauchamp
Thurdays 5-7 PM & Saturdays 9 AM- Noon
Alice Bongers also welcome you to call her with questions or to volunteer.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Heights Happenings: October 25- November 3, 2010

This Sunday, October 31 is Halloween, so please keep your eyes open for all the little ghouls and goblins roaming the streets on Sunday night. We have one the best neighborhoods in Houston for trick-or-treating, so we also get a lot of visitors. Please drive safely.

Saturday, October 30, 4 PM- 6 PM: Dia de los Muertos poetry reading at Heights Books-Libros
  • John Milkereit, Gilberto Arriaga, Gilberto Arriaga, Blanca A. Alanis
  • All new and used books will be 30% off
  • Great local art will also be available
  • Food and drinks will be served
  • 502 E 20th, Ste D
Saturday, October 30, 4 PM- 9 PM: Brooksmith's 3rd Annual Day of The Dead celebration
  • More than 1,000 people are expected to attend and enjoy diverse entertainment, including performances by the La Paloma flamenco dancers, the Grupo Azteca dancers plus Mariachis and 3 other wonderful bands on two stages, porch bands, food, beer/wine, a farmers market, art vendors, and children’s activities.
  • Monte Beach Park
  • Check the Heights Day of the Dead Facebook page for more information, including vendors
Sunday, October 31, Noon- 3 PM: Pugs Hearts fundraiser at A Peaceful Pet
  • A Peaceful Pet is hosting a Costume Contest with all the entry fees going to support PugHearts Houston Pug Rescue. All pets, any species, are invited to attend.
  • Entry fees are $5.00 per pet.
  • Sandy also has some new watercolors on display by local artist Adine Rotman. These paintings of fall foliage will be available to view and purchase now through December 3rd. Sandy will make a $45.00 donation to PugHearts for any painting purchased during the Halloween event.
  • Scoop le Poop Pet Waste Removal Service has donated a gift certificate for one entire month of FREE pet waste removal. A $125.00 value. Tickets are 1 for $5.00 or 3 for $10.00.

Saturday, November 6, 10 AM- 1 PM: Houston's Out of the Darkness Walk at Stude Park
  • In the United States, a person dies by suicide every 16 minutes, claiming more than 33,000 lives each year. It is estimated that an attempt is made every minute; with close to one million people attempting suicide annually.
  • This walk benefits the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the leading national not-for-profit organization exclusively dedicated to understanding and preventing suicide through research, education and advocacy.
  • Online registration closes at 11:45PM, Friday, Nov 5. However, anyone who would like to participate can register in person at the walk! Please know that walk donations are accepted until December 31st, 2010. Check in starts at 9 AM.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Heights Snapshot: Parking Lot Dance Party

Sunday, September 26

Roughly 7 PM (AKA "almost bedtime")

729 Studewood

Antidote regulars I Am Mesmer, who also play their White Linen Night event and other sporadic shows, had a couple members come out for a Sunday night performance and the kids were rocking. Cars parked back, leaving space for a makeshift dance floor. My sons were the only boys in a sea of princess dresses, but that didn't intimidate them. They know they're good dancers. Ha! It didn't take long for adults to get the hint and get their feet moving, too. From the day it opened its doors, Antidote has been a neighborhood favorite, offering a low key atmosphere that welcomes young, old, hipster, yuppie, workers and players alike. If you want a snapshot of who and what make up the Heights, simply swing by this coffee shop for a beverage and look around (oh, and if you don't know, they also have beer and wine).

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Heights Happenings: October 20- October 27, 2010

Saturday, October 23, 10 AM- 3 PM: Quality Feed Store Customer Appreciation Day
  • A true gem in the Heights, Quality Feed has been serving this community since it opened its doors in it's current location in 1928. According to The Leader, Quality Feed is believed to be one of the country's oldest Purina feed and garden stores.
  • The customer appreciation shin dig will be family friendly with lots to do and see: horse and buggy rides, face painting, food, door prizes, and a photographer to take families photos.
  • This great business almost left the Heights, so go out and support them. This is Houston's history!
    • 4428 North Main

    • I don't know what these bullets are but they won't go away because Blogger sucks.
    Sunday, October 24, 8 AM- 2 PM: HHA Urban Forestry Day
    • Free entertainment, free trees and other goodies.
    • Heights Fire Station, 12th at Yale

    Sunday, October 24, 2 AM- 4 AM: 38th Annual Moonlight Bike Ramble, brought to you by Bike Houston
    • Prizes for best costume and best lighted bike.
    • Helmets are required.
    • Chose either a 10 or 20 mile route, both begin and end at the George R Brown downtown.
    • Check the website for other rules and all registration information

    The Leader is currently taking nominations for the 29th Annual Leader of the Year.
    • Created in 1982 to enhance and spotlight positive news coverage, the award strives to "focus public attention on those many persons in our area that give of their time and resources to make their community a better place in which to live."
    • Nomination Form

    Wednesday, October 13, 2010

    Heights Happenings: October 13- October 20, 2010

    Saturday, October 16, 10 AM: Buchanan's Native Plants presents
    Perennials & Bulbs for Spring Color with William C. Welch
    • Part of the Fall Lecture Series, given by Dr. William C. Welch, Professor,Texas AgriLife Extension Service Landscape Horticulturist at Texas A&M University.
    • Native of Houston and Lamar H.S. graduate, Dr. Welch is a popular speaker and is recognized for excellence in his educational programs.

    Saturday, October 16, 10 AM- 2 PM: Natural Pawz Grand Opening
    • Ribbon cutting, give-aways, adoption opportunities, interactive dog games and more
    • Haunting Hounds Costume Contest
    • 514 W 19th, next to Penzey's

    Saturday, October 16, 10 AM- 2 PM: Ikea Houston presents
    National Tree Hugger Celebration
    • Join Ikea at their Texas sized store at 7810 Katy Freeway
    • This special event will feature a planting demonstration, educational workshop presented by Trees For Houston, Monkeynastics from Houston Family Magazine, give aways hosted by Houston’s CW, and more.
    • The first 350 guests will also receive a free seedling to take home.


    Friday, October 29, 11:30 AM: Houston Heights Women's Club 2nd Annual Witches Luncheon
    • If you've been following this blog for a while, you might remember I covered this fun event last year.
    • This year should be even better. With Stella Sola providing the food, it won't be anything less than amazing. Oh, and there will be wine.
    • Members: $35. Non-members welcome for $40.
    • Yes, people will be dressed up. Awards will be given for "Best Hat" and more...
    • If you've been looking for a reason to join the Heights Women's Club, this is a great way to get started. The Club has been around since 1900 and has a dynamic and interesting membership.

    Monday, October 11, 2010

    Clay Date Mayhem

    The Heights really can be a small town neighborhood. We have approximately 45,000 residents, which is more than twice the size of my hometown. Then there are all people who commute in and out for work or other business. That's a lot of people. Not to mention we live in the 4th largest city in the country. Because of this, I am still regularly surprised when a small web of connections crosses and I end up meeting people I kind of feel like I should have known already.

    Recently, I had an amazingly good time at a little off-beat location called McCheek's Academy. Ms McCheek is a ceramics artist, real name Carole Smith. She and her husband are both creative types. They live in a pair of corrugated metal warehouses which are cut and sliced in to a couple small rental units, their primary residence and art spaces- a kiln for her, plus a studio for her own creative process and also the many classes she has started offering. Her husband does screen printing and has an area dedicated to keeping shops like Hello-Lucky in tshirts as well. All of this work and creativity is surrounded by a wonderful green garden where you could relax with a drink and forget the hustle of the world around you.

    Carole and her husband have lived in the Heights for about 5 years. Like many of us, they saw the neighborhood as a place where the arts are appreciated and people are supportive of one another. This helped make career change a little easier for her. Carole had gone to arts college in London and had a lamp shop there where her pieces were bought and sold around the worl, but fate had it's way with her and, when she fell in love with an American, she landed in Houston. Like many an artist before her, Carole ended up in restaurant management to pay the bills while she kept the creative fires going with her Mc Cheek's Mayhem Etsy store, as well as custom orders. For Carole, Mayhem is all the pieces she creates and I am sure her new schedule is adding to the chaos. After 7 years, though, it was time to get back to where her heart is full time. She wanted to teach but a shortage of available art teacher positions in HISD helped her realize she might as well go out on her own. Welcome Mc Cheek's Academy to the mayhem.

    McCheek's Academy is the perfect way for us to all create a little Mayhem of our own. Every Thursday night from 7- 10 PM, Carole hosts up to 10 friends for Clay and Cabernet. The perfect adult play date... or should I say 'clay date.' My friend Mairi came along, both of us having a mantra of "I love to drink and make stuff." I packed a fun bottle of wine and cruised on down West 9th to get my clay on. This is where it got tricky! I didn't realize at first that the "house" was a warehouse. It took a couple of u-turns to realize what I was looking for was this blue metal building surrounded by greenery. Once I was sure it was the place, the small sign on the fence welcomed Mairi and me to Clay & Cabernet.
    619 W 9th (at Waverly).
    Might be easier to find if you know it's across from the metal fence with the doll heads on it. Know the one I mean?

    Carole and I connected via Teresa at Hello-Lucky. Small world. Even smaller world when I walked in the door to find another mom I have never met in person before but with whom I have emailed, who also happens to live in my teeny neighborhood, Proctor Plaza. THe next guest was Serena from Antidote. This also makes sense since Carole's husband screenprints Serena's uber cute Yeti Sunshine tshirts. There was one other person, Dran, and I didn't have a connection to her but this was obviously not her 1st creative endeavor as she made some beautiful tiles I show you further down.

    Classes are currently held in a partially completed apartment which will eventually become a rental until for Carole. When that happens, she is preparing a nice space in the mail part of the house for class. For now, though, this is perfect. Just the right size and I didn't feel like I had to be so self conscious about the messes I sometimes make when I am trying to be creative.

    We signed the guest book, making sure to put our emails so Carole can notify us when our items are ready. There was a cork screw and some wine glasses waiting there for me. Fab. The main table was set with a work area for each person and in the middle were cups and bowls and boxes of tools to cut, stamp, emboss and roll the slab of clay Carole had prepared for you.

    Wine and tools

    Also on display were some projects Carole and others had made, set out to give you ideas of how the paints would look after being glazed and also to get your creative juices flowing. I need help in that area. I am a very practical person in that I don't like to make things purely for decorations. I like them to have use. I must have picked up ever item on this table 3 times... Finally, I figured out that while I may not like decorative items, I know someone who does. My mom. I decided to make her a little gift for her garden.

    Before we settled in with out own clay, Carole gave a brief lesson on some of the techniques we can use to create our pieces. The most important one was the process by which you adhere pieces to eachother, important if you wanted to make some kind of box or planter. Otherwise, she did quick demos of decorative techniques like embossing or rolling leaves in to the clay to make a more organic design. This leave rolling was going to be perfect for my mom's little garden sign! Carole had a few leaves on the table but said we could feel free to go in to the garden and find anything else we wanted. I decided it would be nice to have a look and headed through the metal door in to the big, lush garden.

    Carole demonstrates some clay work techniques and gives up helpful tips for our projects

    Carole's garden has everything from your run of the mill bushes to herbs and flowers, all available for your use.
    Just pick what you want.

    One the crowd had kind of mingled around, looked at some samples, asked questions, it was time to get down to work. Carole had pre-prepared large slabs of clay for us to work with. Each piece could easily make 2 larger projects, so no one should fear not getting their $35 worth. However, if you're not comfortable with working with clay in a raw form, she also has plates and cups that you can paint, which she will glaze and fire for you. Still, I was thrilled by starting from just-past-scratch with my clay.

    Serena bringing her slab to the table. Carole provides aprons but I would still recommend dressing casual and comfortable since it's hands on. The clay can get a little messy and so can the paint.

    After grabbing my own piece of clay, I used a template to cut a square and decided I would use flowers to make my decorative impression. I loved it! I was even more excited when I found letter stamps which can be used to make text on the clay. I added "Paula's Garden" and then.... Well, there wasn't a lot more to do. Luckily there were more creative in attendance. Serena said she was going to make some tiles (with herbs) and then some gift tags. GIFT TAGS! BRILLIANT! I had a huge piece of clay left and was thrilled by this idea. I am one of those people whose presents are usually not nearly as nice inside as they are wrapped on the outside. I loved the practical, useful and unbelievably cute idea of making little tags for presents or other occasions.

    The flowers I rolled in to the clay for my mom's garden plaque.
    The greenery rolling was a favorite technique of the crowd on this night.

    Mairi rolled a giant fig leaf in to her clay and then cut it out to make a large base.
    She had many little cut outs that she adhered to this base to make a bright, fun piece of art.

    Thanks to Serena's idea, I was able to make maximum use of my clay slab, cutting out circle and other shapes, some embossed with stamps, others with leaves and flowers. I used small letter stamps to have some say Thank You, Joy, Love and Baby.

    My tags were decorated in several ways.
    I embossed words on them and pierced a small hole in each one to thread a ribbon through.

    Fellow Proctor Plaza mom Kim used small circles and made several dozen designs from her slab. She is going to glue magnets on the back and use them as gifts through the Holidays this year. Another brilliantly practical idea!
    Carole has cutters of all shapes and sizes.
    Your imagination is the only limit on what you can create!

    As I mentioned, Dran made some beautiful tiles in striking red. I can only imagine how brilliant they're going to be when they are glazed. Here is a hand drawn tile with pictures taken from a book about Kimonos and Obis. I can't believe I don't have a picture of her other tile, either. It was a beautiful free hand zinnia design taken from one of the obis in the book. I am just awed by people who have that kind of talent.

    Attending Clay & Cabernet was a great adventure. I am already trying to get a group of friends to go with me in the next couple weeks. I want to make holiday gifts tags and maybe some small ornaments as teachers' gifts. And who knows what someone else with come up with that set the lightbulb off in my head for projects beyond those. If you're looking for a fun night out that's more than just sitting there with wine in your hand, have some wine and creativity at the same time. Every Thursday, 7 PM, you can have your own Clay Date!

    My mom's garden plaque (Merry Christmas if you're reading this, Mom) and some of the tags I made for baby gifts and thank yous. It takes about 2 weeks for them to be double glazed and fired. I can't wait to see my finished products!

    Tuesday, October 5, 2010

    Heights Happenings: October 6- October 13, 2010

    Thursday, October 7, 6-9 PM: The Artful Corner kicks off the "Season for CERF" with a party and raffle.
    • Thirteen very talented artists have donated some fabulous work (valued at $1,500.00) to help raise money for the Craft Emergency Relief Fund.
    • When disaster strikes a craft artist, CERF is there to help with much needed recovery assistance through no-interest loans, donations of supplies and equipment and grants, as well as booth-fee waivers to help artists at wholesale and retail shows
    • The raffle will continue through December 10 and one winner will get this amazing collection.
    Saturday, October 9, 10 AM- Noon: Proctor Plaza Neighborhood Association presents the Proctor Plaza Pooch Promenade,
    • Proctor Plaza Park, 803 West Temple. Registration begins at 9am
    • Prizes will be awarded for: Most Talented, Best Dressed, Dog/Owner Look-alike, Best Story, Prissiest Tail and more
    • All dogs must be on a leash, and proof of vaccination is required.
    • For more information contact Eloise at
    • Donations of food for pets and people in need will be collected.

    Saturday, October 9, 7:30 PM: Dustin Welch at Heights Live!
    • On Saturday night, the listening room at Heights Live! will fill with the masterful sounds of Dustin Welch. Dustin is an "up and coming" artist playing "heart pounding, thought provoking music" of which you will soon not be able to get enough.
    • 240 W 18th at Heights Presbyterian Church
    • $10 donation at the door. Childcare available by reservation.
    Saturday, October 9, 8:30 PM: Terri Hendrix at the Listening Room at Nia Moves
    • Special duo performance with Lloyd Maines
    • Tickets $17.50 in advance on line at the Listening Room website linked above
    Saturday, October 9, 6 PM- 10 PM: Samadhi Yoga and Dance Studio's Annual Studio Party
    • Samadhi is a great outdoor space with classes ranging from Zumba to belly dance.
    • Live entertainment, free class demos (tango, salsa-merengue, belly dance, yoga), interactive classes and refreshments and more...
    • $5 per person
    • Bring your comfortable clothes if you like to join the interactive classes.
    • There will also be an energy healer and a psychic at the party. Could get interesting!

    Ending Friday, October 8: "Barbara Jones: Her Life in Paint" at the Art Car Museum
    • "Barbara Jones was a highly regarded Houston painter who passed away last year. She practiced her distinctive painting technique while studying art at the University of Houston under professors Richard Stout and John Alexander. Years ago, Barbara described her passion for painting quite truthfully,“The paint drives me, I do not drive the paint”. Her vibrant use of color, accurate employment of perspective and her inspired talent in communicating the genuine essence of those in her portraits are just a few of the significant aspects of her paintings. Her passionate disapproval of war, killing and senseless violence is evident in her “God” and “Girls with Guns” series. Through her self portraits, landscapes, portraits of friends and family; Barbara Jones offers the world a glimpse into her life,in paint."

    Monday, October 4, 2010

    I can hardly contain myself

    Got an email from another Heights mom last week with this delightful little photo attached. I am so excited. I mean, it won't be long until I never have to leave the Heights to get a food fix.