Sports fans everywhere are still reeling from the cancellation or postponement of their favorite sports seasons due to COVID-19. Houston Astros fans and players are hoping for a semblance of a season, even if it is shortened by a few months. Although rumors have circulated since April, at the time of this writing, nothing has been confirmed by Major League Baseball owners, MLB Players Association, or the Houston Astros.
Many athletes are sitting idle during this unprecedented global pandemic and are using their time to train in the gym, spend extra time with family, or relax. However, a few like Houston Astros third baseman Alex Bregman and his fiancé Reagan Howard are using this time to give back and volunteer in their communities. When Bregman and Howard realized COVID-19 was having an impact on one of the most vulnerable populations in Houston, they knew they had to get involved.
After delivering meals to a local hospital in the early days of the pandemic, the couple saw how much their donation helped people and immediately knew they wanted to do more. “We went home and thought about what people are struggling with during the pandemic,” said Howard. “We realized that a lot of kids were not getting the meals they were used to before the schools shut down - sometimes school is the only place children will have a full meal. We realized that the pandemic was making this problem even worse, and we knew that we could have a big impact in that area.”
A partnership between the couple and the Houston Food Bank was born. Bregman and Howard donated their time and fundraising efforts to the food bank, which is the largest of its kind in the United States. Serving a network of over 1,500 community partners, the Houston Food Bank partners with over 18 southeast Texas counties including food pantries, soup kitchens, meal sites, and shelters. The Houston Food Bank also provides programs and services to help families achieve long-term stability including nutrition education, job training, health management, and help securing financial assistance.
“Alex and Reagan’s efforts to raise funds and awareness about the need for food assistance during the pandemic have been very impactful,” said Amy Ragan, Chief Development Officer for Houston Food Bank. “Alex and Reagan came out to volunteer at our main facility, at one of our partner sites, and at one of our supersites where we served around 7,500 cars. This gift of time, in addition to all they are doing to raise money for Houston Food Bank is amazing. With so many more Houstonians struggling to make ends meet, they are stepping up to help their fellow neighbors in need. We are so grateful for their assistance.”
Bregman called on friends and fellow athletes to help their FEEDHOU campaign take off. He pledged $100,000 of his own money toward the campaign, and friends followed suit. Houston icon Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale was one of the first to match Bregman’s donation, and within one week, they had surpassed their initial goal of $1 million. Bregman and Howard got creative in their fundraising efforts; Bregman hosted a 24-hour charity live stream on Twitch, and the couple initiated a chalk drawing contest as a way for kids to get involved in the cause. After only one month of the FEEDHOU campaign, they raised nearly $2 million and have no plans of slowing down.
“Before COVID-19 happened, I didn’t know that one out of four children in Houston don’t know where their next meal is coming from,” said Howard. “When we volunteered at a distribution center to help deliver food and saw exactly where the meals were going, it made us want to work even harder. Our initial goal was $1 million, and it was incredible to see the outpouring of support,” said Howard. “When we surpassed that goal, we knew that we had to keep going - we couldn’t stop there. We wanted to create a community around this cause, and any donation amount helps. Donating just $1 provides three meals, so if someone donates $25, it has a huge impact.”
Bregman is no stranger to charity work. He founded Bregman Cares, a charity now managed by the couple that focuses on Autism, high school athletes, and first responders. Excited about the prospect of future charity work, Howard plans to incorporate their work with the Houston Food Bank into Bregman Cares. “It is amazing to see Alex’s platform as an athlete be used to do so much good,” said Howard. “I feel like it is a way to share our lives and what we are passionate about.”
According to Howard, one of the best parts about embarking on the FEEDHOU project has been the time she and Bregman have spent together planning, executing, and watching their project come to life. The couple has also enjoyed all the extra time quarantine has given them. In a typical baseball season, they don’t see each other during the day and rarely had meals together. “To be able to spend so much quality time together has been amazing. The pandemic has forced both of us to slow down,” says Howard. “We get to have dinner together, which we never used to do – we’ve enjoyed all this extra time we’ve gotten to spend together.”
The immediate future is a bit uncertain for Howard and Bregman. The couple who got engaged in January were hoping an early December wedding until COVID-19 interrupted their plans. Despite an uncertain schedule, Howard still has her sights set on a 2020 wedding. “It has been kind of stressful and crazy to plan a wedding in the middle of a pandemic,” she says. “We want to get married this year, so we are going to try and make it work, but it is hard because we don’t know if there will be a season or when the offseason will be.”
In the meantime, Howard, a Texas A&M grad with a background in marketing and technology, has plans to start her own business and simply enjoy her time with Bregman. Married or not, Houstonians should be excited to see what comes next for the power couple who have already had a significant impact on the Houston community.
If you would like to donate to the Houston Food Bank, text FEEDHOU to the number 41444 or visit houstonfoodbank.org.