Friends of Conroe hosts the annual Friends Feeding Friends event

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

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

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

She said she learned about the food pick-up 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 there was some seating. This year, the group also partnered with Meals on Wheels to deliver food to families.

At headquarters, the line for pick-up started around 9:00 AM, an hour and a half before the food was to be given out. The pickup would continue until 1:30 PM. At the Caney Creek Cowboy Church, food ran out around noon.

Non-profit co-chair Jodi Willard began her day at the center on Thursday at 6:30 a.m., 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, she said community members have “really felt that hit,” noting that people have reached out to the organization through their Facebook page to provide meals for them.

“We are honored to be able to do this for their families,” she 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 to even run errands. COVID-19 was also a significant burden, she said.

“I think the universal pressure on everyone has also increased over the last two years,” she said.

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This year, the organization distributed 3,000 meals. In recent years, some 2,500 to 3,000 meals have been distributed, with the most meals distributed last year: 4,000 meals.

The organization also gave away 128 meals and canned goods to senior citizens, in support of Meals on Wheels of Montgomery County.

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

A few seniors not affiliated 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 co-chair of the event.

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

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

Gracey said it’s a little different every year.

The organization first partnered with the Salvation Army five years ago, where Friends of Conroe did all the cooking and the Salvation Army hosted the meal at the Conroe location. Music would be played to get people in the party mood and an area was set up for children to play.

In 2020, the nonprofit had to adapt to COVID-19 protocols, marking the first year the organization transitioned to handing out take-out meals, which were well received by people, Gracey said.

“I think a lot of people prefer to just drive through and pick up, and then go home and have their little private dinners with their families,” she said.

Another change from previous years is that the organization wanted to expand, she said, pointing out that not everyone can come downtown. So the organization opened what they call “outdoor” locations to provide meals to people across the county.

Gracey said the organization is still working with the Salvation Army, sending 300 to 400 signs as needed.

The cost is $15,000 each year, with Friends of Conroe footing most of the bill. Businesses and organizations such as Sams Club, H.E.B. and the Waverly Station Cowboy Church also helped with costs this year.

Leggett is one of 50 community members who volunteered this year.

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

The first year she served with her children, Jackson and Katie – 17-year-old twins.

“It was one of those things… (the kids) got a little older,” she said, noting that her kids wanted to serve others before serving themselves over Christmas. “There was some grunting and moaning and stuff. And we were going to serve all day. And every time we got in the car, they’d ask, ‘can we do this every year’.”

She called the organization, together with the volunteers who come back every year, her ‘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,” she said. “And I’m just thankful that he’s allowed me to… to do things like this and be a blessing to other people.”

Daisy Morales was also grateful.

She was driving through downtown when she saw volunteers outside the organization’s headquarters, with ice coolers and signs surrounding them.

“The reason we came here is to show our gratitude and be thankful… for (volunteers) who are here on their day off,” she said, accepting five plates for her family. “Not many people do that.”

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