Last week, a concert venue joined relief efforts and quickly started functioning as a food distribution center. Named after the northwest-central Houston community where it is located, The Heights is a historic theater. Sitting on high ground, it was lucky enough to avoid flooding. Employees of The Heights and Harold’s Restaurant & Tap Room worked with volunteers not only to prepare meals, but to search for hungry people.
“The American Red Cross, the food banks and shelters make the biggest difference,” says Heights owner Edwin Cabaniss. “But there’s people in need falling through the cracks. We tried to provide support at a micro level.”
A dry building with a commercial kitchen, the theater was used to help people survive the week instead of providing weekend entertainment.
“With the rain, we couldn’t do anything for the first three days,” Cabaniss continues. Indeed, sandbags just barely kept out inches of water gathering at the rear entrance. “But we assessed the situation and developed a plan to help.” He also sought advice from friends and relatives who were part of Hurricane Katrina relief efforts.
The staff at The Heights naturally includes local musicians. Cabaniss canceled several shows — Delbert McClinton, a sold-out event, is being rescheduled for December — but kept his employees working with the relief effort. He also donated $5,000 and raised nearly $17,000 more with a GoFundMe page.
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Employees from The Kessler, Cabaniss’s venue in Dallas, loaded supplies and food into trucks that were driven to Houston. The kitchen at The Heights is normally used to prepare quick bites during events. But for three nights in a row, from 6 to 8:30 p.m. Friday through Sunday, employees and volunteers made 300 hot meals onsite and 500 sack lunches to go for first responders.
“The most dinners we’ve ever served during a show is about 115,” Cabaniss says.
The venue put “Serving Houston and Open for Business” on the marquee and tried to spread the word on social media. But not many people showed up Friday evening. Within an hour, there was plenty of food but the theater was empty. Cabaniss checked I Have Food I Need Food (ihavefoodineedfood.com), a simple website set up to help Houstonians get food and make food drops.
In less than five minutes, Cabaniss and his team were delivering 175 hot meals — chicken, green beans, a salad — to a nearby distribution hub. The next morning, they returned to donate dozens of cases of bottled water. Cabaniss says the water received a military escort to Beaumont by helicopter. One of his employees took additional resources to Beaumont with the National Guard. The front-door manager swiftly decided to fill his van with supplies and join a military convoy.
By Saturday night, the Heights was running food to police and fire stations, churches, and trailer parks.
“Before we got on the ground, we thought we would make the food and people would show up,” Cabaniss says. “But you have to run it to them. We got in the groove, helping first responders and artists on a short-term basis. Hopefully it had a multiplier effect. But this is just one story. There are hundreds of recent stories about the spirit of Houstonians.”
The Heights Theater reopens this Friday, September 8, with former Men at Work front man Colin Hay.
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