“Be prepared, not scared. Be proactive, not reactive.” ~ Stuart I.R. Haniff.
When your mission is to fight hunger and to feed hope, countless people in your community are relying on you to be prepared.
Stuart I. R. Haniff, the chief executive officer of the Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley Inc., took that mission to heart in preparing his organization’s response to the COVID-19 crisis.
Haniff and his team began their efforts in February as they watched news of the pandemic spreading from country to country. He knew the safety of his team, the people they serve and over 100 volunteers rested in his hands. The team developed a plan. It required them to make agonizing decisions, including closing volunteer opportunities and stopping all food drives.
Haniff’s team also had to redesign the process of providing food to individuals and families in need, creating a mobile-distribution model. This model is a finely tuned process. Those seeking assistance drive up to the distribution site, wearing face masks while providing a photo identification and proof of address to a Food Bank employee.
The car trunk must be empty so all of the food can be safely placed in there. Since COVID-19 hit the Valley, the line of cars stretches farther than Food Bank employees’ eyes can see. Yet the process runs smoothly and gratitude is in abundance.
Among those waiting in line are former Food Bank donors who now need help themselves.
“It is a stark reminder to all of us,” Haniff said, “that but for the grace of God go I. We are all vulnerable.”
A Further Reach
Haniff and his team added to their outreach efforts by offering “pop ups.” These are distributions set up at locations across the Valley on short notice and publicized on social media when extra food has been made available.
Bert Ogden Arena hosted a three-hour pop up “Mass Drive-Thru Emergency Pantry” on May 12. The Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley provided food to 1,650 families that day. It’s a stark reminder of the need created by COVID-19 unemployment.
The number of families served that day isn’t the only astounding number associated with the Food Bank’s pandemic response. The increase in need due to COVID-19 is equally astounding at 233 percent.
Gabriela Parra, executive assistant to Haniff, wants Valley residents to know another number: one.
“One dollar goes a long way,” Parra said. “For every dollar we raise, we are able to provide up to five complete and nutritious meals.”
Making Dollars Count
In early May, the McAllen AFT, a union for McAllen Independent School District employees, presented a $3,000 check to Haniff.
“When we heard about the need in our community, the Central Labor Council voted to contribute $1,000 to the Food Bank of the RGV,” said Sylvia Tanguma, the president of McAllen AFT.
The McAllen AFT Executive Board decided to match the donation and the Texas AFL-CIO also matched it, leading to the total $3,000 contribution to the Food Bank. Tanguma and McAllen AFT organizer Indeera Mohammed then presented the $3,000 check to Haniff.
“That donation will provide 15,000 meals,” Parra said.
Requesting the help of the Texas National Guard is another part of the Food Bank’s plan that has proven to be invaluable.
“We have a group of 30 men and women who have made our food distribution easier and our pop ups possible,” Haniff said.
The plan Haniff and his team started in May is a working document and tweaked as the ever-changing situation requires. The plan depends on the generosity of businesses offering pop-up sites, donation matching and individuals making donations.
“The revenue we raise has to keep up with the food we put out,” Haniff said. “Be prepared, not scared. Be proactive, not reactive. Do a better job today than you did yesterday. The most gratifying thing is to be a blessing to someone else.”