Houston man continues to help the homeless during COVID-19 crisis

During stressful times, it can be easy to forget about those in need, but one man is continuing to make a difference during the coronavirus crisis.

If you're lucky enough to meet Jay Hamburger in person, he might toss you a tangerine. 

He says it’s all about keeping the spirit of giving going around.  

“We’re all a part of one community, whether we realize or not,” he says. 

Hamburger stopped at Three Brothers Bakery on Braeswood to pick up pastries Sunday morning. 

“It’s mostly just bread right now and rolls,” says the clerk as he loads bags in the back of Hamburger’s car. 

It’s the first stop of a weekly trip to feed the homeless, something Hamburger has done for more than 30 years.

“Service providers are not as likely to go out out of fear, understandably,” he says. 

The spread of coronavirus COVID-19 has put a pause on some homeless outreach when it's needed most.

“They are more likely to have compromised immune systems and don’t have the opportunity for hygiene,” he says. 

MORE: Coronavirus cases in the greater Houston area

Closed churches and public buildings mean there are fewer places for the homeless to wash up, and with restaurants slowing down, there is also less surplus food being donated.

”This is light,” says Jay after his car is loaded with baked goods. “Usually I can fill my whole car.”

But Hamburger hits the road anyway, making another stop for fruit to toss around with friends and those in need.

He usually pays out of pocket for fresh produce, but on this trip, a donation from a local bar is helping to fill boxes at the Houston Farmers Market on Airline Drive.

He waits for ripe fruit at the former Canino Produce Market, saying how it will be eaten right away. 

He says he’s never been homeless before, and he’s also often mistaken for a religious leader, but he simply noticed a need years ago while living downtown. 

“It’s a bounty of the universe I’m sharing with people who deserve it just as much as you and I do,” says Hamburger. 

After loading up with fruit, he moves on to a downtown bridge where his car is swarmed before he can park.

“In these terrible times for us all, it’s a level worse for the homeless,” he adds. 

He recently started wearing protective gear, gloves and a mask.  As dozens surround him, there's little thought to social distancing or city ordinances limiting how many homeless can be fed.

“There was a lot of desperation because there’s very little food,” he says. 

He's filling a need, often forgotten in hard times. Even with fewer donations, Jay plans to continue his outreach every week, hoping to remind others that we’re all in this together. 

“We are all part of one great organism and if this virus doesn’t teach us that, we have our eyes and our ears closed,” he says.