After-school program cares for kids

ELSA — When the final bell of the day rings at Edcouch-Elsa schools, not all of the children head home.

More than two dozen of them who live at Maeghan Pointe Homes make their way to the subdivision’s community center for a free meal.

“I like the hamburgers,” shouted Pio Nuñez. “I like pigs in a blanket,” said Reginay Luna.

The children, whose parents are still at work, come here every day after school to play, study or take part in organized activities.

Every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, they also receive a meal provided by the Catholic Charities Children and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP). It is one of 11 program sites scattered across the Rio Grande Valley.

“These are kids who, after school, go to a site where they have some kind of an activity,” said Sister Norma Pimentel, director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley. “It doesn’t matter whether it’s religion, or whether it’s tutoring or whatever kind of activity they have after school. They provide that service to the community so therefore we can provide them the food to feed them.”

CACFP is a U.S. Department of Agriculture program administered locally by Catholic Charities. The program provides reimbursement to licensed family childcare providers and other qualifying sites for meals and snacks they provide which meet federal nutritional quality standards.

The program provides more than just meals. Children in the program also learn about good eating habits that will improve their quality of life. Providers receive nutrition education and help in encouraging positive eating habits.

“It has to be a nutritious meal,” said Food Program Coordinator Tracy Perez. “There are certain components that have to be met. For example, meat, protein, fruit, vegetables and grain.”

“It’s important to make sure children are fed correctly,” Pimentel said. “They need to grow up and be healthy and we want to make sure they have this available to them. We will go out of our way to do this partnership with the Department of Agriculture so that children can be fed properly here in the Valley.”

Maeghan Pointe Homes subdivision is an 80-unit rental housing community focused on providing affordable housing to qualifying families in the Delta area. The complex houses an estimated 500 residents.

CACFP also helps renters like Elvira Guzman. The 75-year-old Maeghan Pointe resident cares for three school-age children with the help of her 68-year-old sister. Together, they live on a combined fixed income of roughly $1,500 a month.

“Sometimes the last week of the month is very hard,” said Guzman. “We have to really stretch our food dollars and this really helps a lot. Sometimes, some of our kids don’t like the food, but then there’s times that they love it, but that’s the way kids are, even at home. Mine eat everything and these meals are good and nutritious, so I like the program a lot.”

Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley is one of 20 organizations that are supported by the annual AIM Charities fundraising campaign. The charity, now in its third year, raises funds for the hungry, homeless and others in need of basic essentials in the Rio Grande Valley.

AIM Media Texas, the parent company of the Valley Morning Star, The Monitor and The Brownsville Herald, underwrites all administrative costs associated with the charity, ensuring 100 percent of all monies raised go directly to the beneficiary agencies.

Even though CACFP is funded by the USDA, Catholic Charities is able to use part of its AIM funds to help the dozens of volunteers who staff the distribution sites, which, like the one in Elsa, are sometimes located in outlying areas of the Valley.

“One way to entice people to volunteer in these programs is to help them by paying their mileage to go to those sites,” Pimentel said.

“Funds like those we get from AIM will assist us in making sure that we have the money to compensate the people for their mileage costs. We are a charitable organization and without volunteers, it puts a lot more extra work on the one staff member that we have to oversee the whole program.

“Volunteers are essential for us to operate.”

How To Help

To learn more about the work of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley and the other 19 agencies supported by AIM Charities, visit and donate today at: