Pedicabs delivering meals, produce to high-risk people stuck at home

Brownsville Pedicab pilot Shelly Patterson rolls along as Brownsville Pedicab helps deliver fresh produce bags to vulnerable neighbors April 2 in the downtown Brownsville, Texas, area.

BROWNSVILLE, Texas - Brownsville Pedicab, a downtown-based taxi and historical tour service founded in December, is stepping up to assist residents at risk of contracting COVID-19 who cannot leave their homes.

The small business's new delivery project aims to fill in gaps while adapting to the needs of the community under a shifting economy.

Owner Cynthia Lizardi Burlette and pedicab driver Shelly Patterson helped staff earlier this month at the Brownsville Wellness Coalition load boxes of freshly-picked produce into the back seat of one of the company's pedicabs.

Burlette and Patterson wore gloves and cloth masks, sewn by a local seamstress with Yolis Seamstress and Tailoring, preparing to make at least seven deliveries.

"We are going to load up and take these to businesses and individuals who are most vulnerable and unable to get out themselves," Patterson told The Brownsville Herald.

"This is a great way. It's very environmentally friendly with the bicycle. I'm in good shape and I'm happy to use my fitness and my ability to help out. We have the capacity to take quite a bit."

Patterson, who used to give historical tours, said that part of the business has come to a halt under state and county-wide emergency orders. Like other small businesses, Brownsville Pedicab was forced to evaluate how it can evolve to serve current needs, resulting in the delivery service.

"We decided to use what we have to contact businesses and see how they are adjusting real-time, and how we can fit into that plan to help as well. We're limited only by the amount of time and capacity we have," she said.

Burlette, who founded Brownsville Pedicab with co-owner Gilbert Velasquez late last year, said the decision to begin delivery services came in response to uncertainty rocking the community as ongoing emergency orders leave certain residents particularly vulnerable.

"I was sharing with Shelly this morning that my stomach was in knots listening to media and social feeds wondering what to do. When I reached out to people, they were just elated because of this vulnerability and taking precautionary measures and staying in the house," she said last Thursday.

"We have one delivery we're taking to a cancer patient. We're also delivering to those who are up in age and live by themselves. This is something they're looking forward to."

On Thursdays, a pedicab driver is making roughly half a dozen deliveries throughout the Mitte Cultural District and downtown areas. Anybody who knows someone in need can contact the business through its Facebook page or reach out to the Brownsville Wellness Coalition to coordinate the delivery of produce.

Burlette explained the company's mission had been about connecting locals and visitors to places and businesses through the transportation service. Shelter in place meant no more rides or tours, causing staff to re-evaluate Brownsville Pedicab's purpose in the community.

Work is expanding at the grassroots level as word spreads about the service. Brownsville Pedicab has also been making deliveries to Gladys Porter Zoo - currently in a spending freeze - to provide fresh feed to the animals.

"There are those who are vulnerable. They can't afford to take the risk because of their health, age, or illness. I reached out to neighbors and neighbors reached out to families, so the word is spreading. We're supporting farmers, we're supporting small businesses. And we're supporting and helping out the vulnerable."

According to Burlette, the company has three pedicabs, one of which is currently being used for deliveries. Should the need grow, there are two more, she specified. "It's about finding creative ways in which to maintain, to sustain, and to become relevant in what we're all dealing with."