Houston’s biggest gathering on Saturday didn’t see national television news crews. It didn’t draw out protestors. It didn’t spark its own Twitter handle. And the event — which attracted an estimated 100,0000 people to a convention center just seven miles down the road from Gov. Rick Perry (R) and The Response prayer rally — had nothing to do with religion and everything to do with Texas families struggling through hard economic times:
“Some families camped out for hours to gain admittance into Houston’s first-ever, citywide back-to-school event at George R. Brown Convention Center, where free backpacks, school supplies, uniforms, haircut vouchers, immunizations, and fresh produce were provided.
Others were turned away.
“It was getting beyond capacity,” [Houstan Independent School District] spokesman Jason Spencer said. “If nothing else, it shows the need.”
In 2009, more than one-fifth of Houston-area residents lived below the poverty level, 3 percentage points higher than the state average. Given the scope of the need, the HISD event provided more than just school supplies; the City of Houston donated 20,000 boxed lunches, and the local Food Bank gave 25,000 three-pound bags of food.
The event planners, who had expected around 25,000 children to attend along with their parents, found themselves overwhelmed with nearly four times that number, forcing police to close the doors around 10 a.m., two hours earlier than expected. Every supply was distributed, every immunization given out, and yet still Texans came up empty-handed.
“They were supposed to have school supplies, but all we got was sweating and paid parking,” Houston mother Beatrice Jones said.
Only a few miles down the road from Jones, her governor prayed alongside 30,000 people for all those “who have lost hope.” He did not see fit to mention either the thousands of his constituents lined up for free back-to-school items or the multi-million dollar cuts his budget will inflict upon the Texas education system.