Appetite for helping: Need for food distribution stays strong

After eight months into the COVID-19 pandemic in Brownsville, the need for food distribution in the community continues to stay strong.

At least 1,800 grocery bags were distributed Friday morning at the Brownsville Event Center for the weekly “United Against Hunger” mass distribution by United Way of Southern Cameron County.

Officials said cars started to line up at 11:30 p.m. the night before and there has been an increase in demand for food distribution since the USDA distribution program ended.

“United Against Hunger has noticed a significant increase in need and demand now that the USDA program has ended. We always ask the first car for an arrival time,” Wendy De Leon, development and communication director, said.

“Since the program has ended, cars have stayed in line overnight, lining up at 11:30 p.m. to make sure they are able to get a sack of food. We want to remind the community that we are not providing families with gourmet meals. We are providing bags of non-perishables and produce for the community.”

De Leon said they try to assess how many cars are waiting in line with the number of bags available at the distribution. They currently have to turn away 25 to 50 cars per distribution.

Volunteers usher cars forward to receive bags of groceries Friday morning at the weekly food distribution by the United Way of Southern Cameron County outside the Brownsville Event Center.(Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)

“We don’t want our community members to have to wait in line only to be told as they drive in, that we are out of food. Brownsville Police Department and the UAH team have been able to quickly count food/cars and communicate those numbers to the officers on the street,” she said. “This system has allowed us to be able to ‘cut’ the line to prevent cars that will not be serviced, the waiting time. We currently have to turn away anywhere from 25 to 50 cars per distribution.”

Over 60,000 food bags have been distributed since the first mass event back in April and thousands more are set to be given away in the upcoming weeks. De Leon said the intention is to continue the program for as long as there is a need in the community.

“Back in March, when we started United Against Hunger, we realized that one of the biggest problems our community would face during this pandemic was food insecurity. As the months progressed, programs such as the USDA and unemployment benefits definitely helped our families stay afloat,” she said. “Now that that extra help is gone our families are suffering. The need has increased and will only continue throughout the holidays, an already pressing time for most members of our community.”

The food distribution will continue weekly until the end of the year as the agency works to secure enough funding. De Leon added in a previous interview the program reaches about 2,000 families weekly via pantry bags and 900 individuals via hot meals.

Hundreds of volunteers have attended the distributions with corporate teams such as Chick-Fil-A Boca Chica, Brownsville Navigation/Port of Brownsville, Valley Baptist Medical Center, Valley Regional Medical Center, CSL Plasma, St. Mary’s School, CASA, Cameron County, County Clerk’s office, Judge Eddie Trevino Jr.’s office, City of Brownsville volunteers, St. Joseph Academy, and the Law office of Trey Martinez & UWSCC Loaned Executives.

Two lines of cars stretch from the parking lot for several blocks as residents line up to receive bags of groceries Friday morning for the weekly food distribution by the United Way of Southern Cameron County outside the Brownsville Event Center.(Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)

“The United Against Hunger food distributions will continue every Friday through the end of the year,” she said. “Our intention is to continue for as long as food insecurity is a major problem in our community. We continue to seek funding to sustain this initiative”

They are also providing Get Shift Done workers for Brownsville Wellness Coalition, Good Neighbor Settlement House and Ozanam Center, in addition to Food Bank of the RGV, Amigos Del Valley —meals on wheels — and Salvation Army.

To donate, visit unitedwayrgv.org/donate.

nreyna@brownsvilleherald.com