Going green: Ozanam Center in Brownsville gets solar panels, upgraded kitchen

Kitchen staff at the Ozanam Center homeless shelter prepare lunch after a ceremony celebrating the center's new kitchen and solar panels. (Steve Clark/ The Brownsville Herald)

Brownsville’s Bishop E. San Pedro Ozanam Center homeless shelter has a new kitchen and enough solar panels to run the entire complex, thanks to help from Valley Baptist Legacy Foundation, the Kenedy Memorial Foundation, United Way of Southern Cameron County and a number of other donors.

Victor Maldonado, the shelter’s executive director, said the cost of improvements was around $190,000, though the private individual who covered the cost of the solar installation wished to remain anonymous. The solar equipment installation was performed by Corpus Christi-based SPI Go Green, which donated its services.

“It feeds all the different rooms we have here at the agency,” Maldonado said. “All the dorms, the dining hall, the kitchen, the office, the food pantry, and the new (adult education) building that we have up there. It feeds all of them, and hopefully it will reduce 80 percent of our cost.”

The Ozanam Center is owned by the Catholic Diocese of Brownsville and was originally established as Casa Romero, a shelter for Central American refugees fleeing war torn countries.

Bishop Daniel E. Flores delivered comments at a Monday ceremony outside the shelter’s dining hall before offering a prayer, cutting the ribbon, then blessing the building. He said Ozanam’s move to solar power is a sign of progress in the community.

“I’m very proud of that fact,” Flores said. “A lot of our churches are now trying to advance into solar panels.”

He thanked the foundations, private individuals and the city of Brownsville for helping make the shelter “a space that is hospitable.”

“The city of Brownsville has been very good to us in helping us and providing what we need whenever we need it,” Maldonado said. “We also have families who come in on a regular basis and donate to the Ozanam Center. It could be water, it could be clothes, it could be towels. Anything that we need.”

Most of Ozanam’s clients are in Cameron County, though the shelter also serves Hidalgo and Willacy counties, as well as guests from other parts of the United States and the world. These days, in addition to the area’s population, Ozanam is again helping out no small number of migrants from Central America and Mexico.

“Along with the homeless that we’re assisting on a regular basis, we’re also helping with the migrants that are coming this way,” Maldonado said. “We’re housing about 100, 150 a day.”

Recent improvements, including a new dining hall completed in 2017, help make the shelter sustainable, he said. Regardless of where its clients come from, Ozanam’s services are in great demand, Maldonado said.

“Little by little through the years we’ve been improving our facilities for the folks that we help ,” he said. “Our main mission is to house and to feed those that need it. With this new facility, new kitchen, new dining hall, we’re hoping to be here more years to serve anybody that needs our services.”