RGV Food Bank celebrates Hunger Action Month

The Food Bank of the RGV currently works with 230 agencies that have been able to distribute over $34 million dollars worth of food since 2012.

In the Rio Grande Valley 42,000 individuals receive food assistance through the Food Bank of the RGV on a weekly basis, according to the organization’s website. Within this group, 79 percent has an income below the federal poverty line, $23,830 for a family of four.

September marks Hunger Action Month, a nationwide campaign led by Feeding

America that calls upon individuals and food pantries to get involved in the fight against domestic hunger. Feeding America allows participants to engage in the campaign by offering information about hunger-related issues, tips on how to organize community projects and ways to donate. The month is intended to remind Americans to help the 47 million citizens that rely on food stamps year-round.

According to Terri Drefke, chief executive officer for the Food Bank of the RGV, the group will host the “30 Days in 30 Ways” campaign that started Sept. 4 at the UTPA’s women’s volleyball game, where fans were encouraged to bring four canned goods in exchange for a free ticket. Throughout the month, the group will find different methods to feed the hungry.

There will be free events such as Empty Bowls at the Pharr Events Center Sept. 23. Attendees can enjoy cuisine from local restaurants or purchase handcrafted ceramic bowls made by volunteers from the UTPA Art Department.

Last year at the eighth annual Empty Bowls event, approximately 900 people attended and about $50,000 was raised, the equivalent of 250,000 meals.

“Most of the time, people that live in poverty and are in need of food assistance know where to go for help,” Drefke said. “But middle class individuals who are suddenly hit with a financial crisis have no clue where to turn for assistance. So these types of events are now put on their radar…now they know where to turn.”

About 50 percent of members served by the food bank are children under 18-years-old. With the issue of hunger impacting children and young adults locally, the University opened a Student Food Pantry Sept. 8.

UTPA junior Samuel Morales believes hunger is a significant issue that the nation must not leave unsolved.

“There is no excuse in this country why we can’t put a solution to this issue,” the

Edinburg native said. “Everyone in America should be well fed because of the resources we have here. It’s also an issue that we should look to combat around the world because every human being deserves a meal every day.”

Morales hopes to get involved with organizations that raise awareness for hunger and looks to help the cause in anyway he can.

“I think the solution is for people that are fortunate enough, including me, is to make room to help,” the 21-year-old said. “If we help those that need help then they’ll be content and they’ll eventually be able to help others…it’s a relationship I think we should have as a society.”

Philip Farias, manager of corporate engagement and events for the Food Bank, admits the best part about helping others are the countless words of gratitude he has received.

“(Helping others) is something that’s always been in my heart. It’s very rewarding to see because I didn’t know much about the food bank and now I’m just like ‘Whoa,’” the 28-year-old said. “And it hit me the first week on the job when I went to go distribute 30 pound bags of food to the senior (citizens) and to see how they happy they are, how excited they get…is just something else.”

Along with Farias, Morales has also experienced the issue of hunger first hand when he noticed that a handful of friends were not able to have more than one meal a day.

“I’ve had friends that come from low-income families who only eat however much they’re able to afford,” the 21-year-old said. “People that come from low income families…it’s not their fault they were born under this situation and they grow up hungry and that shouldn’t be something that happens here.”

Texas showed a significant food insecurity rate in 2012, ranking third in the nation based off a 21.8 percent food hardship rate. The rate reflects percentages of the federally-established poverty line, which varies based on household size.

Drefke explained the percentage of need in the RGV has nearly doubled since the Great Recession of 2007-2009, when the U.S. economy experienced the worst financial downturn since the Great Depression.

“With (the Great Recession) it was the first time in the 25 years that I’ve been here we started seeing middle class families come to the food bank,” she said. “Even though we double in numbers, that’s only meeting 20 to 25 percent of the need in the RGV. Some people are either going without assistance because of pride or because they don’t know where to turn.”

Among other events, as part of the “30 days in 30 Ways” campaign, the Food Bank of the RGV will hold an open house at their facilities Sept. 25 for individuals who are in need of assistance or for those looking to volunteer.

“(The Food Bank of the RGV) has VIP lunch tours on Tuesdays and we bring people in and show them around the food bank,” Farias said. “We tell them what we do to help feed the Valley and when they hear what we have to say and realize how many programs we have, they are always in shock.”

Drefke admits her role at the food bank has changed over the 25 years she has been there, but insists that the need for hunger has always been her main focus.

“I can’t imagine doing anything else,” she said. “I always said it was a God thing because I had worked with nonprofits before with the church and I knew that if I couldn’t find the pastor at home I could find him at a food bank.”