BY ROD SANTA ANA III
SAN BENITO — A second summer meals program in the Rio Grande Valley is feeding and educating youngsters on summer break who live in neighborhoods surrounding the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service office in San Benito.
A similar program in Edinburg has been offering free meals and health education on Fridays.
The Cameron County program in San Benito will offer assistance on Tuesdays and Thursdays through July, according to Oscar Zamora, the AgriLife Extension agent for the Expanded Food Nutrition Education Program in Cameron and Willacy counties.
The first Summer Meals Nutrition Camp will be held at the Cameron County San Benito Annex Building, 1390 W. Expressway 83 in San Benito.
“Our program is designed to assist limited-resource audiences in acquiring the knowledge, skills, attitudes and changed behaviors necessary for nutritionally sound diets,” he said.
“The program also contributes to their personal development and the improvement of the entire family’s diet and nutritional well-being.”
Program organizers in Hidalgo County reported children admitting to them that they worry about where their next meal will come from. Zamora said the sentiment exists in his area as well.
“Children may be too proud to admit it, but it’s obvious that many of the children of South Texas worry about having something to eat,” he said. “In fact, statistics show an alarming 20 percent, or about 26 million people in the state of Texas, are food insecure.”
The two target audiences for EFNEP participation are low-income individuals in rural or urban areas who are responsible for planning and preparing the family’s food, with emphasis on households with young children, and low-income youth living in rural or urban areas.
“Unfortunately, that’s a large segment of our society, and it’s our task to offer the food we can while they are out of school, but also, while we have them here, to educate them about good nutrition and healthy living,” Zamora said.
Healthy snacks are served at 9:30 a.m. and lunch is served at 11:30 a.m., Zamora said. In between, children are instructed on a variety of topics having to do with healthy living, including hygiene, exercise, healthy eating and other health-related topics.
Children also take part in lessons titled “Choose Health: Food, Fun and Fitness,” developed with curriculum by Cornell University Cooperative Extension.
“Those attending the camp will receive certificates of graduation during a nice little ceremony we’ll have on the last day of the program, July 28,” he said.
Zamora said his agency partnered with several other agencies and businesses to run the summer camp. They include the Texas Hunger Initiative, a project of the Baylor University School of Social Work, Catholic Charities USA, Superior Health Plan, the Cameron County Constable’s offices, Los Fresnos High School, Mi Salud Si Cuenta, Healthy South Texas and Boogedy Bears.
Businesses contributing school supplies include Clear Channel and Chick-Fil-A.
Rod Santa Ana III is a Texas A&M AgriLife communications specialist.
For more information or to contribute to the program, contact Oscar Zamora at 956-399-4015 or Oscar.Zamora@ag.tamu.edu.