United Helps 6,000 Houston Families After Food Bank Expands Into Empty Cargo Center

And they may bring the initiative to San Francisco.

United Airlines employees
Photo: United

As Houston's George Bush Intercontinental Airport, like many, has seen a dramatic decrease in customers passing through due to the coronavirus, they've repurposed their massive space to help the community.

Baggage handler Mark Zessin, who works for United, is now leading a company-wide effort to transform the airline’s empty cargo facility into food distribution centers, assisting the overwhelmed Houston Food Bank.

After the Houston Food Bank released a television ad asking for assistance, as they were running low on space for the food and needed more volunteers, Zessin took note and began organizing an effort at the airport.

"They were quickly running out of room, and it was a challenge to find volunteers given the stay-at-home orders," Zessin told ABC News affiliate ABC13. "I thought we may have some assets they could use.”

His initiative led to hundreds of United employees across all departments getting involved — sorting, packaging and distributing 6,000 relief packages for local families in need.

"Mark is too humble to say this, but he has led these efforts," Houston airport United Communications Manager David Gonzalez told ABC13. "This wasn't the only idea Mark brought forth, but it's the biggest one so far."

United said it is considering opening a second center at its cargo facility in San Francisco to assist local food bank services there.

Already, the United Maintenance Center in San Francisco is producing large batches of alcohol-based hand sanitizer that will disinfect the airline’s spaces not only in San Francisco but around the country. The airline registered with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), to be able to make the product that seems to be sold out everywhere.

They expect to produce thousands of bottles of the disinfectant but the most difficult part of the process is procuring certain ingredients and spray bottles."Supplies are still in very high demand, but fortunately we were able to procure and take delivery of enough chemicals and containers to get started," United’s Machining, Plating and Welding Senior Manager George Skoufos said in a press release last week.

They have also flown tens of thousands of pounds of personal protective equipment from San Francisco, Calif. to Newark, N.J. to be sent to hospitals in the New York/New Jersey area in partnership with nonprofit, Airlink.

“Yet again, United Airlines delivered humanitarian aid and support to crisis-hit communities when it counts,” said Airlink CEO Steve Smith. “Airlink and United have successfully worked together on countless disaster relief missions across the world, and it’s great that we could be part of this mission to help the people of New York City and New Jersey.”

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