McALLEN — Lt. Adolph Aguirre, commanding officer for the Salvation Army in McAllen and Hidalgo County, never seemed to catch his breath Thursday as he described the situation at the shelter in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and Hurricane Hanna.
Small beads of sweat trickled down his face as he attempted to speak over the chaotic noise of the shelter’s kitchen, where workers and volunteers rushed to prepare 5,000 hot meals for families in need of food throughout three counties in the Rio Grande Valley.
It’s also vaguely apparent, behind his face covering, that he never seemed to lose his smile. An anecdote that speaks volumes about a man who starts his day at 6 a.m. at the shelter and somehow, throughout all the chaos, manages to maintain a sense of organization and control.
“I guess adrenaline’s kicked in, so I’m OK, but I make sure to get enough rest as soon as I get home,” Aguirre said with a laugh as he described his 12-hour day. “I feel energized. My tracker is off the charts. I’ve earned all my steps for the month.”
Clanging pans and a constant wave of voices carry throughout much of the shelter as meals are loaded into large containers in preparation for distribution in multiple locations throughout the Valley.
“Last year during the storms in July, we were averaging assisting people with 1,000 meals a day,” Aguirre said. “Now because of how widespread Hanna was, we’re in seven different locations for a total of 5,600 meals a day.”
Coincidentally, Aguirre’s tenure with the Salvation Army was inaugurated with the heavy storm of June 2019 which resulted in flooding and mobile homes being destroyed throughout the county, as well as power outages.
He said that the experience helped prepare him for the workload he and his staff would undertake following this weekend’s hurricane, which caused hundreds of thousands of energy customers to lose power for several days.
Residents affected had to toss out whatever was in their refrigerator and, without power, couldn’t keep any new food fresh.
And with the pandemic raging on, meeting new goals also remains a daunting task.
“It is challenging because we have so many moving parts,” Aguirre said. “Where we normally would just push out 1,000 meals, we’re now having to push out 5,000. It does take a lot more logistical work. On top of that, this morning we’re doing our fan drive.”
Staff and volunteers — the salt of the earth behind face coverings, social distancing and constantly disinfecting as they prepared the canteens, or mobile kitchens — were bound for Sullivan City, Mission, Port Mansfield, Raymondville, Sebastian, Lyford, Weslaco and La Feria.
“They find a spot, they station there, and then they start doing a pick-up process there to-go,” Aguirre said. “People will go there and tell us how many meals they need for their family, and then we provide that many clamshells of meals already prepared, hot and ready.”
Thursday, the Salvation Army distributed clamshell packages that included hamburgers, pork and beans, chips, a snack and bottled water.
At least 900 of those meals were also distributed at the McAllen shelter through a disaster relief vehicle parked out front.
“We provide the entire meal for the family so that they can just go home and eat at their home,” he added.
The kitchen area was vibrant with energy as kitchen staff and volunteers from Southern Baptist Texas Disaster Relief rushed to prepare the meals.
There were nine volunteers from the disaster relief group, and 10 more expected to arrive Friday, all clad in face coverings and yellow shirts and hats.
“We came down here to help feed the disaster victims or anybody else who needs help,” said Freddy Dikes, who arrived in the Valley from Flint on Wednesday. “It looks like things are well organized and are being handled well. With each one of us, it’s a calling that God has called our hearts to be involved and come down here and help out. It’s just a small way that we can help out and give back to people that need help.”
Fans were also distributed at the shelter. Cars began lining up for the free fans at 5 a.m. near the entrance on 23rd Street in McAllen. By the time workers began handing out the fans at 8:30 a.m., the line of cars curved down Pecan Boulevard.
“It’s been outrageous. It’s been crazy,” Oscar Dougherty, an employee with the Salvation Army, said in between placing fans in the backseats of passerby vehicles. “There is a lot of people that are hurting down here, especially with this storm. We’ve gotta be grateful for the Salvation Army because without them, a lot of people would really, really be hurting.”
The fans were distributed in a drive-through fashion, with recipients only having to provide a proof of residency for Hidalgo County.
In total, the shelter distributed 409 fans, one per family, in its first fan distribution of the year.
Anyone who wishes to help the Salvation Army and their hurricane efforts can visit www.salvationarmy.org to make a donation.