At Texas Carpet Baggers in Bulverde, a small town 25 miles north of San Antonio, Becky Feeley designs and sells custom, handcrafted handbags made from fine leathers and fabrics. When the COVID-19 pandemic forced retail shops to close temporarily, Feeley, who runs her store in the downtown artisan hub called Old Village, feared she would have to close her business for good.
“I’m having a hard time promoting bags because they mean nothing right now with all the horribleness and the pain,” she says. “It’s been hard to walk the ethical line between real suffering and trying not to lose my business.”
Jane Wood, who has owned Old Village for the last 60 years, and her grandson Charlie Wood, who helps run the complex, decided to assist the village’s 16 businesses with their rent during the pandemic, assuring that they won’t be kicked out. “Charlie told us to take rent off of our plates until we can get through this, which gives us the energy to be strong and push through,” Feeley says.
This break on rent has allowed Feeley enough time and creative energy to make 50 face masks, which she gave away in exchange for donations to Provisions, a local food bank. Feeley raised $600 for the food bank, and she is now transitioning back to making bags in hopes that her customers will be able to return to the majority women-owned shops and restaurants at Old Village. While there isn’t a set reopening date for all of the businesses, many, including Texas Carpet Baggers, are serving customers curbside. “There is hope in the Village,” she says. “We’re fighters, and we’re supported by a great landlord.”
Provisions has seen its operations change significantly since COVID-19, as many of the volunteers are elderly and staying at home. “I’ve lost about half of my volunteer staff,” says Weslea Miller, the executive director of Provisions. “But every day someone calls and asks if they can come volunteer, or send their teen to volunteer.”
The food pantry has shifted to minimum-contact drive-up service, where volunteers bring food to vehicles. In the last nine business days of March, Provisions signed up 56 new families in need. “That’s not a huge number, but considering we’re only open 20 hours a week, that’s a lot for us in a nine-day period,” Miller says. “And I anticipate that if guidelines loosen up, we’ll start seeing more people for a longer period of time. We’re here and happy to help, and boy, have we had great support from the community.”
After the announcement went out that schools were to close for the rest of the school year, Reverend Lupita Ecoff, executive director of Childrens Centre Los Niños, began receiving phone calls from people worried because their children wouldn’t receive school meals. The nonprofit, which usually provides weekend care packages of breakfasts and lunches for impoverished children, is now providing weekly care packages to ensure those in need are receiving protein, dairy, produce, and essential health items.
In the last three weeks, Childrens Centre Los Niños went from serving 50 families to 100 families with weekly care packages. “The families we were seeing were impoverished and free- and reduced-lunch families,” Ecoff says. “Now, since COVID-19, it’s families whose parents are unemployed and seniors who live alone and haven’t left their houses at all.”
Childrens Centre Los Niños, which is accepting online donations, has seen an increase in support from citizens volunteering to make meals and collecting clothing and produce. “It’s an interesting network of people coming together,” Ecoff says. “One retired couple wanted to adopt a family during COVID, with an emphasis on a family with teens. And we have a high school senior who volunteered to take meals out to families with parents who were working or don’t have transportation. I’m grateful because our community is seeing the need and responding without any prompting.”