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Teaming Up to Triple Summer Food for Rio Grande Valley Kids

Summer is just around the corner with most schools and school meal programs closing down for summer break.  Without school meals to depend on, too many kids don’t have access to a nutritious meal.  The Summer Food Service Program provides kids in low-income areas a free nutritious meal or snack each day.

An expanded partnership among USDA, Texas Department of Agriculture and Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley can potentially triple the number of kids served this summer through the Summer Food Service Program in the Rio Grande Valley.

Initially Catholic Charities had identified more than a dozen locations that would serve about 2,000 students, but with encouragement and assistance from USDA Director of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships Max Finberg and USDA Food and Nutrition Service Southwest Regional Administrator Bill Ludwig, they agreed to take on more sites.  Finberg brought in partners from Buckner Family Service and representatives from Texas A&M University’s Center for Housing and Urban Development Colonias Program to suggest additional areas where there was extreme need.

“We’re up for the challenge of serving additional program sites,” said Sister Norma Pimentel, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley.”

Hidalgo County is considered one of the most poverty-stricken areas in the U.S. with a per-capita income among the lowest in the nation. In 2009, the New York Times reported that Hidalgo County, along with the Bronx in New York, had the greatest share of people receiving benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program in America – 29 percent of residents.

Hidalgo, along with Cameron, Willacy and Starr Counties, make up a region along the Texas-Mexico border called the Rio Grande Valley. More than 95 percent of the region is Hispanic and unemployment rates hover at 12 percent.

Many to seek help from local food pantries and churches. Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley’s network of food pantries and counseling centers have helped many Latino families in times of crisis.  Catholic Charities will also help USDA with Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program outreach at their food pantry sites.

USDA officials were successful in tearing down a myth that had prevented the local Catholic Diocese from benefitting from USDA’s most widely-used programs. Sister Pimentel thought that the School Breakfast Program and National School Lunch Program were off limits to private schools. Not so.

Finberg and Ludwig encouraged Sister Pimentel to enroll her 12 Catholic schools in time for the 2011-2012 academic year. FNS and its partners will continue to work with Catholic Charities throughout the year.

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