In the early morning hours, a middle-aged woman waits for a food pantry to open. Her gaunt face shows she has not had much to eat lately and her eyes have dark circles under them. She holds on to her squirming child’s hand and whispers to him in Spanish, paciencia, or “have patience.”
The Donna native, who chose to remain anonymous, opened up about her experience with this stark reality. She has found no choice but to turn to Open Hands Community Charitable Services, a food pantry located in the Mid-Valley town.
“I’ve actually gone days at a time without food, so that my children can have enough,” she said. “Open Hands has been a big help for my family. Every first of the month they give out food, so you’ll see cars filling up in the parking lot and a big line down the street.”
This non-profit organization is directed by David and Kathleen Green, and helps the hungry by distributing boxes of uncooked food, delivering food to handicapped and elderly citizens and providing food to children in rural areas during the summer when free school meals are not available.
Almost a quarter of Hidalgo County has to decide whether to pay bills or buy groceries, according to a study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Having to make this decision is called having food insecurity, which is not uncommon. According to the USDA, 18 percent of Texans experienced food insecurity last year, ranking Texas as the second hungriest state in the nation.
In order to help address this issue, Hunger Action Month was launched by Feeding America, a non-profit organization that consists of a nationwide network of food banks. Every September, various organizations strive to shed light on America’s fight against domestic hunger. This year’s slogan reads “Speak Out Against Hunger”.
Open Hands is just one of the charitable organizations offering food service to the community. Loaves & Fishes of the Rio Grande Valley in Harlingen provides not only food, but shelter and work assistance, as well.
Pastor Bill Reagan is the executive director of Loaves & Fishes, which is fully supported by 35 Harlingen churches. Out of the five programs the organization runs, the Bread of Life Dining Hall aims to bridge the hunger gap. In the month of August, alone,14,443 meals were served.
“We have a dining hall that’s open seven days a week for breakfast and dinner,” Reagan said. “We serve meals to anyone who comes in and asks for a plate of food, no questions asked. They can have as many plates of food as they ask for.”
The Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley, located in Pharr, works to raise awareness of the high amount of food insecurity in the community. The organization has four main programs that provide food assistance, including the Emergency Food Program, Commodity Supplemental Food Program, Product Recovery and Kids Cafe.
“The whole point of Hunger Action Month is to engage the public, educate them, let them know that there is hunger in this country and that there are ways to help fix that problem,” said Omar Rodriguez, the manager of communications and advocacy at the food bank.
Some of these ways include donations of time, money or creativity.
“One hour of volunteering actually saves enough money for the organization to provide 105 meals,” Rodriguez explained. “We are also asking for artists and photographers to depict an image of an experience they’ve had with hunger, or someone they’ve seen. A picture, drawing or painting can be used as a cover photo on Facebook or our website.”
Across the nation, there are many different types of activities going on throughout the month, and locally as well. These include mixers at various local restaurants, food drives and fundraisers.
Wednesday night was Whataburger Fundraiser Night, in which 20 percent of the proceeds from meals purchased between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. at both Pharr locations were donated to the food bank.
The Pharr bank hosts two special events: Empty Bowls, an annual fundraiser set for Sept. 20 at the Pharr Events Center, and the Sort-A-Thon, in which volunteers sort donated food and are given free tickets to the Action Against Hunger concert. WhatMcAllen.com will present this benefit concert Sept. 29 and some of the acts to appear include Mayberry, Jungle Bodies and Tim’s Myth. An interactive calendar can be found at hungeractionmonth.org.
“Awareness in the Valley has grown,” Rodriguez explained. “It used to be just one big event every year, but now there’s something to do every day of the month. The community has gotten very involved.”
Rodriguez has been involved with non-profit organizations for more than 15 years and has worked with the food bank for the past two. His experience with this work has given him the expertise needed to help educate the public.
“There are many ways to speak out, to talk about hunger,” he asserted. “It’s one of those things that’s a silent epidemic in the country.”