United Against Hunger mass distributions set to continue until the end of the year

Brownsville Wellness Coalition volunteer Oscar Zertuche and Get Shift Done worker Roberto Palomo carry bags of food down the line of waiting cars Friday morning at the United Way of Southern Cameron County’s United Against Hunger food distribution outside the Brownsville Event Center.(Denise Cathey/ The Brownsville Herald)

Since April 24, every Friday hundreds of cars line up since early hours in the morning to receive a bag of groceries and fresh produce as part of the United Against Hunger by United Way of Southern Cameron County as residents continue to struggle to make ends meet during the COVID-19 pandemic that has taken a huge economic toll in the country.

“The need continues to grow, last week our first car was in line at midnight for an 8:00 a.m. distribution,” Chief Executive Officer Traci Wickett said.

“It’s heartbreaking that people are experiencing that level of need, but we are happy that we have been successful in securing funding to provide help to them.”

Wickett said the good news is that United Way of Southern Cameron County has secured a grant for $300,000 that they anticipate will help them continue this work through the end of the year and also received $50,000 from the Get Shift Done fund at the Communities Foundation of Texas.

“We don’t have any grant requests outstanding at the moment,” Wickett said. “Everything we have submitted has been awarded, now we have to find the next foundation that will support this effort.”

Wickett said at the beginning of the pandemic, they did emergency distributions through Brownsville Wellness Coalition first and also made an emergency grant to Good Neighbor, but it was obvious they were not going to be able to meet the need through just those channels and that was when Food Bank RGV joined them and recommended the mass distributions.

Other partners for this program include Brownsville Wellness Coalition, Brownsville Community Foundation, Brownsville Foundation for Health and Education, University of Texas School of Public Health, Good Neighbor Settlement House and the City of Brownsville.

In a previous interview with The Herald, Stuart Haniff, CEO at the Food Bank RGV, said as a result of this crisis there has been a growth in demand for food of 200 percent. He added the partnership created to host this event is a great way to respond immediately to the crisis.

“It’s crucial for us, especially during this health and financial crisis of COVID-19, to be getting food into the hands of people who need it most,” he said. “We are the largest charity in South Texas and we are first responders for food, and this is what first responding looks like; with our boots on the ground with a partnership with United Way.”

United Against Hunger continues to distribute 1,600 bags of pantry items every week —as well as fresh produce when they can get it— in addition to what they get for the emergency pantries at Good Neighbor Settlement House and Ozanam Center.

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.

“We continue to employ furloughed restaurant workers at $10 per hour to help prepare, package and distribute food,” Wickett said. “They also work at community gardens to help grow fresh food that will supplement what we distribute.”

To donate, visit unitedwayrgv.org/donate.

nreyna@brownsvilleherald.com