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20110805_JOE_GARCIA_MissionFoodPantry_ECMThe shelves are quite bare at the Mission Food Pantry, but Joe Garcia, assistant manager, is about to head to the grocery store to purchase food to restock the shelves.

“Tomorrow [Tuesday] is going to be a busy day,” he says.

Every Tuesday and Thursday the Mission Food Pantry is filled with dozens of families pouring in to receive food. Each month approximately 2,500 men, women and children rely on food provided by the pantry. And these people are not just from Mission, but also from the surrounding areas like Palmview and Alton, as well as the colonias in Western Hidalgo County.

The Mission Food Pantry is a non-profit organization that relies heavily on product and monetary donations from private individuals, local businesses, churches and community organizations.

Garcia and his wife, Nadine, have been running the food pantry for the past nine years. With the help of volunteers that come and go throughout the year, they are able to maintain the operation. Garcia says the summer months are usually the hardest for a few reasons: One, being that the Winter Texans who donate so much are gone, and two, because with kids being at home for the summer, demand for food is up.

“During Winter Texan season we usually have a lot more food,” said Garcia. “But this summer has been especially hard. We are seeing more people than ever needing assistance. Our donations have dropped dramatically. People just are not donating as much as they use to. I think a lot of it has to do with our economy.”

Most of the product donations come from three area churches: First Christian Church, Bread of Life Church, and First Presbyterian Church. The City of Mission provides $5,000 a year to the food pantry. Plus, Hidalgo County provides the building space and helps with the electric bill.

But, the aid that the Mission Food Pantry receives is still not enough to maintain a well-stocked distribution center.

A small thrift store in a warehouse behind the pantry was established well before Garcia arrived. It was developed to help bring in income to offset the costs of food and maintenance of the organization. The warehouse is filled with neat things including board games, books, home furnishings, clothing, toys and jewelry.

“We sell just about anything that is still in good condition,” Garcia said. “And we get a lot of people that come in here to shop and help support us. Sometimes the nursing homes will bring in a group of shoppers or a group of winter visitors will come in together from one of the RV parks.”

The items that fill the thrift store come from donations as well.

“If you want to get rid of something and don’t know what to do with it, just donate it to us. All the proceeds from the thrift store go back into the food pantry,” said Garcia. “If you have a garage sale and don’t sell everything, but don’t want the boxes left in your garage, then bring it here or we can go pick it up from you.”

“We rely heavily on the thrift store too,” Garcia added. “We get a lot of items donated each week, so it takes some time sorting through it all. That’s where our volunteers help us out a lot.”

The Mission Food Pantry is not only able to help distribute food, but with the thrift store, they are able to assist children who need items for school. Garcia says he gets referrals from schools and the Texas Migrant Council of kids that need anything from tennis shoes to back packs to jackets.

“Those are things that we receive from donations then turn around and donate,” Garcia said.

Gerry Foster, vice president of the Mission Food Pantry board of directors, is originally from Rock Island, Illinois and began traveling to the Rio Grande Valley when he retired. It was during one of his visits to South Texas over 30 years ago that he began volunteering at the food pantry. Since then, he has been actively involved in the pantry’s mission, which is to “provide nutritious food and promote self-reliance to persons who are unable to adequately feed themselves.”

“I hate to see hungry kids for sure and there is a lot of it down here in the Valley,” Foster said. “There are many families facing financial troubles and struggling to put dinner on the table and we just want to do what we can to help.”

Foster and four other board members are committed to bringing awareness about the hunger needs of Mission and the surrounding communities.

“We make it a point to advocate for the needs of the food pantry and those it serves by helping secure donations,” Foster said. “Just two weeks ago we had a lady who donated $5,000.”

Foster said that the Mission Lions Club helps every year and holds a large food drive during the Thanksgiving holiday.

“With the help of the community, we can restock the shelves with food for hungry people,” Foster said.

The local police department and post office have held food drives for the Mission Food Pantry in the past, explained Foster.

“We strongly encourage organizations to get together and hold a food drive,” Foster said. “We need the necessities, canned goods, non-perishable items, rice and beans.”

Adela Ortega, president of the food pantry, said they serve the poorest of the poor right here in the Mission area.

“The other day I took a lady to pay her light bill and she had only $56 left to last her the rest of the month,” Ortega said. “Can you imagine? Only $56 to last for a month and with back-to-school. We try to help these people with clothes for the kids as well.”

In addition, when special needs arise, such as a house fire destroying a family’s belongings, that family can go to the Mission Food Pantry and get any clothing they need – for the whole family, said Ortega.

Those are the kinds of needs the food pantry serves – helping provide food and clothing for children and families who have no place else to turn.

“We will feed anyone that is in need,” said Garcia. “Even if they are not from Mission, but maybe staying with a friend in Mission, they are welcome to come. If someone knocks on our door, hungry and we’re here…we will feed them.”

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, the pantry provides "grab bags" containing assorted food items that are available to anyone who comes to the pantry. All they need is to present any kind of a utility bill and ID to verify that they reside in the area.

“We have our regulars who come by every week to pick up food,” said Ortega.

On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, the pantry still distributes food items, but to those with special or urgent needs through referrals. Referrals come from the food stamp office, social services, churches, the police and local churches.

For Garcia, Ortega and Foster, the fight against hunger is never over. There will always be people needing food and emergency assistance.

How can you get involved?

Take action by donating canned goods or, better yet, by holding a food drive. You can also donate funds, clothing and household items, or volunteer at the pantry. Items can be dropped off at the Mission Food Pantry, located at 414 W. 12th Street in Mission. Cash donations are tax deductible and can be dropped off or mailed to the same address, payable to Mission Food Pantry.  The food pantry is open Monday - Friday, 8:30 a.m. - 12 p.m. For more information, call 956-585-3004.

If you need food:

Visit the pantry or contact them at (956) 585-3004. Regular food distributions are held on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 8:30 a.m. - 12 p.m. Remember to bring a local bill and some form of ID. Emergency referrals will be handled on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

Most Needed Items:

• Whole grain cereal
• Rice
• Pasta
• Mac and Cheese
• Peanut Butter
• Jelly
• Beans
• Canned meat
• Canned vegetables
• Canned Fruit
• Soup

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