As part of the second annual "Hunger Doesn't Last in Houston" event, chili and grilled cheese sandwiches will be served free of charge to underprivileged people from 3-7 p.m. Sunday at Hayes Cafe in Houston. Other citizens are also welcome, and are encouraged to donate cash or new or good-used toys that will be distributed to needy families in the community.

For at least a few hours this weekend, less fortunate local citizens don’t have to be hungry.

That’s because a couple of local business women will host an event called “Hunger Doesn’t Last in Houston” from 3 to 7 p.m. Sunday at Hayes Café in Houston, when needy people – and anyone else – can eat chili and grilled cheese sandwiches free of charge.

Now in its second year, the event was founded by Cindy Westlund, owner of Gigi’s Nail Salon (on Main Street in downtown Houston).

“My goal is to provide a hot meal for people who might not get one during the holidays, or even the rest of the year,” Westlund said. “For years I’ve wanted to work in a soup kitchen and feed families, but there isn’t one around so I figured I would do my own.”

The event also features a toy drive, and attendees who have the means are encouraged to donate new or good-used toys that will then be distributed to several targeted families. Cash donations are also welcome.

“We’re also trying to help kids who aren’t fortunate enough to receive what the average kids get,” Westlund said.

Hayes Café owner Millie Hayes said she got involved after Westlund helped her realize there was a need that she could help address.

“When Cindy talked about all the kids who go hungry for most of every weekend, it really got my attention,” Hayes said. “Maybe I’m just around food so much that I just don’t think about it, but I thought this would be a good way to give something to the community.”

Westlund said last year’s inaugural event drew a sizeable crowd and lots of toys were donated. Hayes even hired a woman who came in hungry; she started work the next day and is still employed at the restaurant.

“We had people come in who you could tell were in need of a meal and we had people from the rest of the community come in and leave lots of donations,” Westlund said. “It was nice.”

Westlund hopes to not only continue the event on an annual basis, but expand it, too. She said the STARS Foundation, a non-profit organization based in Cabool, is already on board.

“I’d really like to branch out and set this up in other communities,” Westlund said. “I want it to become big and feed a lot of people. I think that’s a big deal in this country.

“I know there are lots of other charitable organizations, but adding one more will only feed more people.”

Westlund is no newcomer to charity, as she helps another community businesswoman (Kathy Bruns, of Serenity Studios, next door to Gigi’s) organize a “Free Market” every year. To make that happen, items are collected year round that people can take away for free at a designated time and place.

Several local singers and musicians will perform at Hunger Doesn’t Last, including 2014 Miss Texas County Outstanding Teen Alexis Fuwell and her Little Princess Sister, Gianna Westlund, as well as the Peterson family string ensemble, of Cabool (who are affiliated with the STARS Foundation).

“The Petersons are so good and it’s a shame their talent is more widely known,” Westlund said. “It’s so neat that they’re volunteering to play their music and serve.”

Anyone who wants to contribute but can’t attend the event can make a donation at either Gigi’s or Hayes Café (on Highway B, just east of U.S. 63). For more information, call Westlund at 417-217-9430.

“I feel like it’s important to be mindful of people around you,” Westlund said. “Even thought it might look like someone isn’t struggling, you never know what’s going on on the inside and you just don’t know what’s going on behind closed doors.

“An act of kindness goes a long way; this is something I’ve always wanted to do and I’m taking the opportunity to do it.”

“We were really blessed with this last year, in more ways than one,” Hayes said. “I know we’ll be blessed even more this year, and I hope to do this every year as long as I live.”

I feel like it’s important to be mindful of people around you. Even though it might look like someone isn’t struggling, you never know what’s going on on the inside and you just don’t know what’s going on behind closed doors.”

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