Trying Times: Ozanam Center helps those in need

The Ozanam Center began its food pantry service this week and is providing bagged meals to the surrounding community and anyone in the area who might need groceries.

The project was enabled through funding from the Valley Baptist Legacy Foundation via United Way and its #GetShiftDone and food distribution initiatives and organizers hope it will run through July.

Each Wednesday at 9 a.m. the shelter is providing the groceries in a drive-through set up at its location on Minnesota Avenue. A video of the first distribution showed a long line of cars spanning the road waiting to drive inside.

Supplies have been purchased in bulk through the Food Bank of the RGV. On Thursday, two workers sourced through #GetShiftDone filled hundreds of pink bags distributed for the 2020 Census with canned goods, pasta, cereal, peanut butter, and more.

“They can come by; the only requirement is that you bring an ID and that’s it,” Ozanam Center’s Executive Director Victor Maldonado said of the service. Goods will be provided as supplies last.

Maldonado said that while all non-perishable donations are welcome and needed, cash donations allow the shelter to purchase needed items in bulk at a discounted cost through resources like the RGV Food Bank.

Families in the Rio Grande Valley appear to have access to canned goods through similar food initiatives, but Maldonado has spoken with residents who want basics like eggs, milk, flour, coffee, and cooking oil. “Those five are the number one requests we’re getting from families,” he said.

Those items are also the most expensive. Staff purchased 300 packages of chorizo, for example, spending $800-900. “We’re not going to give these items every week because we understand a can of coffee is going to last you about a month, maybe two. Oil might last you two or three weeks,” he said.

The center is also in need of PPE, bags for its food pantry bundles, and will accept donations like bleach and toilet paper. Staff must sanitize the center regularly and are subject to the same limits on the number of in-demand items allowed for purchase as everyone else and so sourcing such supplies has been a challenge.

PPE, in particular, is used by clients and community members to be able to work. Those who can’t source it elsewhere are relying on the center for help.

Maldonado encouraged anyone in need to seek assistance but urged visitors to make sure they’re not displaying coronavirus symptoms so as to protect residents in need. “Because of our limited space, we don’t want our folks to get sick. They can’t afford to get sick because they can’t afford to see a doctor,” he said.

Food distribution on Wednesdays will be no-contact and anyone who has been impacted by the pandemic and is in need of groceries is more than welcome to drive through.