An 18-wheeler weaved its way through the narrow and winding avenues of the NRG Park parking lot Friday afternoon toward the RodeoHouston carnival, where only a few booths and towering Ferris wheel remain.
Mayor Sylvester Turner on Wednesday ordered the shutdown of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo because of concerns about the coronavirus.
While the economic impact of the rodeo is estimated at well over $225 million, the 36 food vendors at the carnival, owned by RCS Carnival Group, are making the best of the difficult situation. They’re donating their remaining items to local nonprofits, including Houston Food Bank.
“Hundreds of thousands of people are counting on the organization and its partners now, and the need will only heighten if the situation worsens. The food we are receiving today from RCS Carnival Group will help us to feed kids, senior citizens and families in need during this important time,” President and CEO of Houston Food Bank Brian Greene said.
Pallets piled high with goods, including industrial cans of soup and refried beans, boxes of waffle mix and sugar, individually wrapped candied apples and large bags of onions, were lifted onto the truck by forklift operators.
“We’ve got proteins, vegetables, bread and dairy from our vendors,” said Dominic Palmieri, owner of RCS Carnival Group. “The Houston Food Bank was looking for quarantine meals and disaster relief boxes, and then kids are out of school and without school meals. We wanted to help in some way.”
There is enough to help others, too. Palmieri’s company will also make food donations to three other Houston nonprofits: Second Servings, Star of Hope and The Beacon.
“When I got together with the vendors to see how we wanted to deal with all of this food, it was no question,” he said.
The Phoenix-based RCS Carnival Group has been making the trip to RodeoHouston for nearly 27 years. While Palmieri is not sure yet how much of a financial toll this year’s rodeo cancellation will take on his vendors, it will not deter them from coming back next year.
“We will be back for RodeoHouston 2021,” he said. “This experience has been bittersweet. It has been hard for us but at the same time, we are pleased the food is going to help families.”
Greene echoed Palmieri’s comments. “We are so sorry for the major impact that the rodeo cancellation is having upon these businesses and people,” but by helping others, he said, “we hope this will be a silver lining in an unfortunate situation.”