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The Food Bank RGV deserves federal funds to help meet demands, which have soared by 195 percent, contends South Texas state legislative delegation - Food Bank RGV - Titans of the Texas Legislature

Featured, from left: Stuart Haniff, CEO of the Food Bank of Rio Grande Valley, Inc.; Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg; and Erica E. Canales. This image was taken on Thursday, April 16, 2020, as the South Texas lawmaker and his wife presented a donation of $21,570, collected from 180 donors, including $5,000 from Rep. Canales, and $2,500 apiece from Rep. Armando “Mando” Martínez, D-Weslaco, and Rep. Eddie Lucio, III, D-Brownsville. The money will provide 107,850 much-needed meals for families and individuals in deep South Texas.

Photograph By KARLA PONCE


The Food Bank RGV deserves federal funds to help meet demands, which have soared by 195 percent, contends South Texas state legislative delegation

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The Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley, Inc., which has seen demands for its vital services dramatically increase by 195 percent as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic, deserves federal funds for its many key services, which include food assistance, nutrition education, and access to community services, according to the Rio Grande Valley Legislative Delegation of the Texas Legislature.

“As the delegation of the Rio Grande Valley, we request your urgent assistance in securing federal aid through whatever means necessary to help meet the escalating demands of the Food Bank RGV. We also request that the Food Bank RGV be supplied with the necessary personal protection equipment (PPE) to safely handle and distribute food,” the South Texas state lawmakers petitioned the Valley’s congressional delegation and two U.S. senators. 

The request was made through a letter dated Tuesday, April 21, 2020, addressed to Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas; Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen, Congressman Vicente González, D-McAllen, and Congressman Filemón Vela, D-Brownsville.

“This additional aid will allow the Food Bank to safely and rapidly meet their rising demand and to continue to distribute regularly thousands of pounds of canned foods, dry foods, and fresh produce to our rural and vulnerable populations,” the correspondence stated. “The aid will also help meet staff salaries that are absolutely essential to the COVID-19 response and transportation costs when necessary.”

The letter was researched and written by Canales and his staff, who worked closely with Food Bank officials to draft it.

The members of the Rio Grande Valley Legislative Delegation of the Texas Legislature are, in alphabetical order:

• Rep. Alex Domínguez, D-Brownsville;
• Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg;
• Rep. R.D. “Bobby” Guerra, D-McAllen;
• Rep. Ryan Guillén, D-Rio Grande City;
• Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen;
• Rep. Óscar Longoria, Jr., D-La Joya;
• Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville;
• Rep. Eddie Lucio, III, D-Brownsville;
• Rep. Armando “Mando” Martínez, D-Weslaco; and
• Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission.

On Thursday, April 16, 2020, Canales and his wife, Erica E. Canales, presented the Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley, Inc., a donation of $21,570, collected from 180 donors,  including $5,000 from Rep. Canales, and $2,500 apiece from Rep. Armando “Mando” Martínez, D-Weslaco, and Rep. Eddie Lucio, III, D-Brownsville.

“Thank you to State Representative Terry Canales and his wife Erica for hand-delivering a check today from their recent Facebook fundraiser,” Stuart Haniff, CEO of the Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley, Inc., said when he received the donation. “This amazing campaign was started by Representative Canales with his own $5,000 donation. He was then joined by State Representative Eddie Lucio III and Representative Armando “Mando” Martinez, who each pledged to match $2,500. Together they raised $21,570 that will provide 107,850 much-needed meals for the RGV during this critical time.”

According to its website, The Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley, Inc. was incorporated in 1986 and has grown to be the largest charity in South Texas based on clients served. In Fiscal Year 2018, more than 55 million pounds of food and fresh produce were distributed to Cameron, Hidalgo, and Willacy counties and the Feeding America network of food banks. Up to 64,000 people are fed via 275 Partner Agencies any given week.

Canales, who also serves as Chair, House Committee on Transportation, said he and his staff had been working closely with The Food Bank RGV, Inc., over the past few weeks “to help ensure they have everything they need to fight hunger here in the RGV. 

“We drafted a letter recently to send to our full Federal delegation, along with the Governor and the Texas Department of Emergency Management, asking for additional federal aid and PPE (personal protection equipment) for the local food bank,” the House District 40 lawmaker reported. “Thank you to the full RGV delegation for signing on to this letter and helping fight to ensure that no one goes hungry here in the Rio Grande Valley.”

Personal protective equipment (PPE) is protective clothing, helmets, goggles, or other garments or equipment designed to protect the wearer’s body from injury or infection. The hazards addressed by protective equipment include physical, electrical, heat, chemicals, biohazards, and airborne particulate matter.

The urgent request, spearheaded by Canales, was prompted by his recent conversations with leaders of the Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley, Inc., where he learned that demand for food banks has soared nearly 200 percent while food bank resources have simultaneously plummeted 30 percent. 

“The Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley is a critical food resource in our region and is being strained by the surge in demand and lack of personal protection equipment, such as face masks and gloves. Last week (Thursday, April 16, 2020), my colleagues (Martínez and Lucio, III) and I donated over $21,000 from a fundraiser we held, but that is just a drop in the bucket for the Food Bank’s real need,” he said.

The Valley’s two U.S. senators and three congressmen “need to know how dire the situation is for their RGV constituents. Feeding the families of the RGV is going to require the full resources of the federal government, and I know our congressional leaders can get this done,” Canales continued. 

“To the families of the RGV struggling right now, do know that we will get through these challenging times and emerge stronger than before. Please take advantage of the federal, state, and local resources, and call your local elected officials if you need help obtaining aid,” according to the area state lawmakers.

In the state delegation’s letter, the local members of the Texas Legislature also stated:

• The Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley, Inc. has grown to be the 5th largest food bank jn Texas and serves a food insecure population for 146,000 between Hidalgo, Cameron and Willacy counties. Under normal circumstances, the Food Bank RGV feeds approximately 64,000 people a week through its partners, but since COVID-19 has impacted our communities, the demand has soared 195 percent, with that number increasing significantly each week. At the Food Bank RGV’s emergency pantry alone, the facility in now feeding over 2,000 families; 

• The Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley, Inc is becoming increasing strained by the day and is in dire need of assistance to continue feeding the Rio Grande Valley’s most vulnerable citizens without interruption. Several recent issues have compounded the problem for the Food Bank RGV: (1) their food demand has rapidly grown due to job loss and furloughing; (2) their normal supply lines have become less reliable for numerous reasons; (3) their operating expenses have increased 17%; (4) their corporate support has decreased 32%; (5) their volunteers have decreased 98%; (6) their food drives have been reduced by 100%; and (7) their costs have increased due to heightened and safety requirements from the CDC and public health authorities; and

• Recently, the Texas Division of Emergency Management announced that Gov. Greg Abbott has approved the request for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to procure food for Texas food banks. We send our thanks to Gov. Abbott and Chief Jim Kidd for working closely on addressing this important issue. While we appreciate the work done so far, we continue to urge for additional federal assistance for the Food Bank RGV to address their urgent safety and financial needs.

Highlights of the Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley, Inc.

According to its website,

The Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley, Inc. was founded in 1983 by Reverend Ted and Martha Knies at Trinity Episcopal Church in Pharr.

The Valley had just been devastated by a freeze and the Knies took it upon themselves to help those affected by this agricultural blow.

At its inception, it was called the Pharr Area Food Pantry and directly served those living in Pharr and surrounding areas. In 1986, the pantry was incorporated to become the Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley, Inc.  this way it could serve as a clearinghouse for smaller food pantries and on-site feeding organizations.  

The Food Bank of the RGV is a champion to those organizations who focus on making food accessible to the Valley including supporting child feeding sites at Boys and Girls Clubs through the Kids Cafe program, Operation Kid Pack and Ronald McDonald Charities. Making food accessible for seniors and postpartum women and children is also a priority through the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CFSP).

Today, the Food Bank has grown to become the 28th largest in the nation and 5th largest in Texas based on distribution.  We are proudly affiliated with Feeding America and the Feeding Texas. The Food Bank serves Hidalgo, Willacy and Cameron Counties.

The service area for the Food Bank is comprised of Hidalgo, Willacy and Cameron Counties.
In 2011, over 1 million individuals were fed through our various programs, for a total amount of 31 million pounds of non-perishable, frozen and fresh food distributed through over 200 agencies (churches, shelters, etc.).

The Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley, Inc. also has other programs like the Texas Second Chance Program that enables López State Prison low-risk trustees to earn valuable job skills and experience while saving on our labor costs (an estimated $200,000 in 2007). Trustees pick and palletize food orders for our agencies. 

Stuart Haniff, CEO of Food Bank RGV, came on board in mid-November 2019

The Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley Board of Directors late last year announced the appointment of Stuart Haniff, MHA as the new Chief Executive Officer, effective November 18, 2019.

Haniff became only the third non-interim CEO during the Food Bank RGV’s 33-year history. He will oversee more than 75 employees with a network of 275 Partner Agencies helping feed up to 64,000 people on a weekly basis in Cameron, Hidalgo, and Willacy counties.

Haniff comes from a family of medical professionals that has instilled in him a life-long dedication to tackling issues of hunger, health, and poverty. He is a graduate of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), with a degree in Political Science. He also has a Masters degree in Healthcare Administration (MHA). 

Most recently, he served as Chief Philanthropy Officer for Feeding America Riverside|San Bernardino in California between 2015 and 2018. He has robust experience in the fields of advocacy and community engagement with his service to various initiatives and committees with Feeding America. He was also in leadership roles with The United Way and the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

Haniff is a nationally recognized voice for anti-hunger with more than two decades of progressive nonprofit leadership, administration, and healthcare management. His non-profit expertise includes: resource development, capacity building, strategic planning, governance, organizational development, program delivery, and operations, bringing more than fifteen years of improving policies and delivering services to those most vulnerable.

“My goal is to do more than simply feed people,” Haniff said. “As a food bank, we want to move people from hunger to health through nutrition. For more than thirty years, the Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley, Inc. has been a vital institution for Cameron, Hidalgo, and Willacy counties. Hunger is big but the compassion, commitment, and contributions of this community is bigger. I believe it’s our responsibility to help our vulnerable neighbors who face the anxiety and uncertainty of not knowing where their next meal is coming from.”

Haniff was born in Glasgow, Scotland. He and his daughter Hilary are both new residents of the south, as she began her freshman year at Louisiana State University (LSU), in the Fall of 2019.


The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley Department of Intercollegiate Athletics often asks the university community to rally behind the department.

Now, the department has rallied behind the university community.

UTRGV Athletics on Friday, April 17, 2020, donated more than $4,000 worth of food originally set to be sold at the baseball concession stand – including 1,320 hotdogs – to the UTRGV Student Food Pantry, to help students who might be struggling with food insecurity during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Other items donated include hotdog buns, pickles, jalapenos, a variety of chips and candy, peanuts, popcorn, sunflower seeds and other snacks.

Dr. Douglas R. Stoves, Associate Dean for Student Rights and Responsibilities, thanked their university partners at UTRGV Athletics for their generous donation.

“We know that these are difficult times for our students,” Stoves said. “The items they donated go a long way to helping students who are experiencing food insecurity during this challenging time.”

The UTRGV Student Food Pantry’s mission is to help provide food supplements to students at UTRGV who have been affected by financial problems or conditions and subsequently are having trouble meeting their basic need of adequate nutrition. The food pantry gathers, stores and distributes food supplements to students in a manner that respects the dignity and worth of every student.

Students in need can place orders online at

• Orders placed before noon Mondays can be picked up from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays.
• Orders placed before noon Thursdays can be picked up from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Fridays.

On the Edinburg Campus, the student food pantry is located at University Center 114.

On the Brownsville Campus, the student food pantry is at Cavalry Hall 101 and 102.

To contact the food pantry, send an email to [email protected].


Omar I. Rodríguez and Jonah Goldberg contributed to this article. Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, is the Chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and a member of the Sunset Advisory Commission. Rep. Canales represents House District 40 in Hidalgo County, which includes portions or all of Edinburg, Elsa, Faysville, La Blanca, Linn, Lópezville, McAllen, Pharr and Weslaco. He may be reached at his House District Office in Edinburg at (956) 383-0860 or at the Capitol at (512) 463-0426.

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