Building Forward: Meals on Wheels

When discussing the dramatic efforts of Interfaith Ministries’ (IM) Meals on Wheels program following Hurricane Harvey, Shaukat Zakaria explains that the sheer number of volunteers allowed the organization to augment its services during the crisis and provide an important life line to many seniors and disabled veterans. Zakaria is the Vice-Chairman of the Board of Interfaith Ministries of Greater Houston and serves on the Board of the Planning Commission of City of Houston.

Meals on Wheels serves more than 4,200 seniors, disabled and veteran clients in the greater Houston area home-delivered meals daily. During the storm and its immediate aftermath, Meals on Wheels partnered with the National Guard to be able to continue to provide and expand its services. The staff organized more than 10,000 volunteers and set up a volunteer center where people from all over the city could offer their time to organizations throughout the region.

Zakaria recently participated at AdRESS (Advocating Resilience through Environmental and Social Solutions) – Connecting the Conversations sponsored by the Page Foundation and 100 Resilient Cities. Zakaria spoke as a co-panelist with Sanjay Ramabhadran, a partner at VERSA Infrastructure and a member of the METRO Board of Directors. As active members in the city’s planning organizations, Zakaria and Ramabhadran detailed how established networks for transportation and community organizations were important during and after the storm.  

“It was clear to me that IM’s vast network of volunteers was fundamental to our efforts during and after Harvey,” said Zakaria. “But it was also evident that we could have had a system set up that would have been much more efficient.” The organization is developing that program now.

Ramabhadran discussed how the city’s bus fleet was moved to high ground and rode the storm out on the flyovers of Houston’s many highways. He emphasized that the future of the city’s infrastructure must be inclusive of various public transportation modes, but that highways and vehicles will always be part of the city’s mobility and fabric. “It cannot be one solution as we build forward,” he noted. “We must plan for the future and build robust infrastructure to move people and water efficiently. The best laid plans really do work.”

As Zakaria and Ramabhadran detailed during AdRESS, urban areas can re-evaluate their existing ways of doing things in advance of a climate change event such as a flood or windstorm. The overarching point of the conversations at AdRESS empahsized that anticipation of necessity is sufficient cause to examine ways to improve community resilience and self-reliance, so they can return to normal faster after an event. Otherwise, urban centers, particularly those repeatedly impacted by climate, are doomed to respond retroactively and suffer irreparable damage to the social fabric due to displaced and impoverished residents who never fully recover.

For more than a decade, the Page Southerland Page Foundation has supported scholarship and research dedicated to architecture, building science and technology, historic preservation, landscape architecture, and urban design. Through a multi-disciplinary approach, it promotes the role of design in solving complex social and environmental problems through partnerships with scholars, professionals, institutions, and policymakers. Page Foundation is a 501(c) (3) charitable organization.