PHARR — Businesses and organizations have felt the brunt of COVID-19 as the number of cases confirmed locally continue to rise, and as more restrictions are ordered throughout the Rio Grande Valley.

Stuart Haniff, Chief Executive Officer, poses at the Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley on Tuesday, March 24, 2020, in Pharr. (Joel Martinez |

One such organization that is making every effort to continue providing a service to the public is the Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley, which has seen demand for supplies increase exponentially in the past few weeks.

“First and foremost, I want to emphasize to our community that safety is our foremost concern,” said Stuart Haniff, chief executive officer. “It shapes everything that we do and that we will do. We’re putting safety of our staff, of our clients, and of our partner agencies at the forefront.”

The food bank, which is in its 35th year, has recently gone from a daily distribution schedule to Tuesday and Thursday distributions from 9 to 11 a.m., with Thursdays being exclusive for seniors who are 60-years-old or older.

“Right now, as you can imagine, everything that’s happening, there’s an increased demand and need for response from us and for food,” said Haniff. “We have children that normally rely on the lunch at school that now might not have access to that. We have seniors who on any given day are vulnerable, and now they’re even more in a dangerous situation because they’re an at-risk group. In some cases, their distribution has been interrupted or stopped all together.”

Haniff said there’s also an increasing number of working families who can’t afford childcare having to stay with their children, and losing income. This means they’re seeing an influx of people relying on the food bank.

Also, in the interest of safety, the food bank is no longer distributing food at the front of the building, as is normally the case. Food and supplies are now distributed outside of the building, which is located at 724 N. Cage Blvd.

Bags of food are collected for distribution at the Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley on Tuesday, March 24, 2020, in Pharr. There will be a distribution on March 31 at the Food Bank. (Joel Martinez |

Haniff emphasized that the distribution is intended for people who are completely out of food, and not individuals who are looking to stock up. In order to receive supplies from the food bank, clients need to bring a valid ID and proof of their address. Anyone who is picking up food for an elderly person must have the person’s ID and proof of their address.

Haniff said that on a normal day, roughly 60 to 70 people will visit the food bank to pick up supplies. In recent weeks, the food bank has seen upwards of 2,000 people in one day.

“We’re trying to manage capacity, and we’re trying to manage our resources, including staff, which are both limited now due to staff being sick and out of an abundance of caution,” Haniff said. “We want to make sure that we are judicious about that so that we have enough food for everybody that’s in need. That’s why we have two distributions. We moved from daily last week just because we did not have the capacity to do that. Our goal is to make sure that everyone has access to food and we have enough food to get by.”

Husband and wife volunteers David and Marisol Ortega bag rice and beans for distribution along with other volunteers at the Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley on Tuesday, March 24, 2020, in Pharr. (Joel Martinez |

Haniff said that if a shelter in place ordinance should be enforced in the coming days, the food banks and food pantries would be exempt.

“We would still be here unless we hear otherwise,” said Haniff. “We’re working very closely with the county and the different precincts. We’re always focused on being proactive rather than reactive and emphasizing being prepared, not scared. Right now we have to be so leery and careful with any kind of food supply because we have to make sure that our food supply is intact.

“We’re not doing any food drives, we’re not accepting food because of the quarantine issue. We are definitely accepting monetary donations.”

Monetary donations can be made by visiting the food bank’s website,

“We can do more with a monetary donation than with a food donation,” Haniff said. “One dollar provides enough healthy, nutritious food for five complete meals. If people make a dollar donation, we can leverage that and it can have an even greater impact.”