National Guard helping RGV Food Bank meet demand

Nonprofit sees 143% increase in families seeking assistance

PHARR — The Texas Army National Guard is doing its part to alleviate some of the pressure felt by the Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley, which has incurred growing demand for food and supplies amid COVID-19 restrictions.

Specifically, about 30 members of the Texas Army National Guard will be assisting the food bank with preparing food bags as well as distribution.

“The whole point of them being here is we’ve reduced our volunteers to the public. We’ve closed that opportunity in the interest of safety,” said Stuart Haniff, chief executive officer of the food bank. “It left us extremely short-handed.”

The food bank, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to help feed Valley residents in need, is currently doing two distributions a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays, from 9 to 11 a.m., with Thursdays being exclusive for seniors who are 60-years-old or older.

Haniff said that the food bank has seen a 143% increase in demand in recent weeks. He explained that the food bank was serving roughly 140 families every two weeks. But that number has spiked to upwards of 1,700 families every two weeks.

“By having these National Guards in place, it gives us more staffing and more support to add to our distribution, and probably even being able to add additional distributions because we have the man and woman power,” Haniff said. “Also they’re going to help us fill the gap for the volunteers we don’t have in terms of building bags and helping us get them out in a more timely manner. They’re going to be internal and external support for us.”

The food bank will have the additional help from the National Guard for six weeks before they reevaluate the situation, Haniff said.

“Having the National Guard here is a huge benefit for us because it’s going to fill in the gaps from the lack of volunteers,” Haniff said. “It’s also going to enable us to hopefully serve more people. We have not even hit the peak of this crisis, and we’re seeing the demand grow. It’s up to nearly 150%. Our goal is to always be proactive rather than reactive, and having this labor support and the staffing in place … if this crisis increases, we’re in a position to respond.”

Monetary donations can be made by visiting the food bank’s website, www.foodbankrgv.com.