On May 26, I got to go back home to the Rio Grande Valley – the southernmost region in the continental United States – to help promote new sites for the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP). The SFSP provides free, nutritious meals and snacks to help children in low-income neighborhoods get the nutrition they need to learn, play, and grow, throughout the summer months when they are out of school.
My agency, the USDA Food and Nutrition Service, along with our state partner, the Texas Department of Agriculture, collaborated with local leaders from the Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley to bring SFSP feeding sites to the area, where unemployment figures are the highest in Texas and many families struggle to make ends meet.
Along with Catholic leaders and local elected officials, we held a press conference in the historic national shrine of the Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan Del Valle. The shrine located in San Juan is the most visited site in the Rio Grande Valley, where parishioners visit in times of crisis or to give thanks for prayers answered. We felt it was appropriate to launch our new feeding initiative at the shrine since so many see it as a symbol of hope.
Catholic Bishop Daniel Flores opened the press conference with a blessing to more than 100 people in attendance. Local school children from the San Juan area were invited to sample food that will be served by the SFSP’s vendor, Chapita’s, and participate in special games – which would be similar to the feeding site activities.
My agency is grateful that Catholic Charities has agreed to sponsor 25 feeding locations this summer. Sites are located throughout Cameron, Hidalgo and Willacy counties. An estimated 1,500 children will be served snacks and/or lunches.
We appreciate Catholic Charities for going above and beyond with the SFSP. The agency partnered with other communities to set up sites in rural areas and colonias (unincorporated areas outside of cities where there is no running water or sewage system). Those residents have a hard time getting access to assistance.
We at the USDA Food and Nutrition Service are committed to President Barack Obama’s goal of ending childhood hunger, and Catholic Charities will help us reach that goal by providing the staff to administer these meals to children.
Last year in Texas 2.3 million children qualified for free and reduced-price meals in the National School Lunch Program, which makes the neighborhoods they live in eligible to participate in SFSP. Only 162,636 Texas children (less than 7 percent) took part in SFSP in 2010.
Our agency would like to thank representatives from the Texas Department of Agriculture, Texas Health and Human Services Commission, the office of U.S. Representative Blake Farenthold (R-Brownsville) and the office of U.S. Representative Ruben Hinojosa (D-McAllen) for joining us that afternoon and underscoring the need to support this program.
We also got a nice proclamation from the City of San Juan, which honored Catholic Charities for stepping up to feed children in the area.