Census taker helper John Treviño helps others to fill out their census on Wednesday in Edinburg. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

EDINBURG — City leaders here are digging deep into their creativity to put together 2020 Census outreach efforts that, so far, appear to be working.

Edinburg leads the Rio Grande Valley in the Census self-response rate, according to the latest figures available at 2020Census.gov.

With a rate of 63.9%, the city is more than 2 percentage points ahead of the state’s total response rate and more than four points ahead of McAllen, which has a rate of 59.2%.

Much of its success comes from the city’s Census Self-Response Center, which opened in July and cross promoted a $100 gift card program that aimed to help local businesses recover from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But on Wednesday, Edinburg staff launched their newest weapon: an ice cream truck.

“We literally have an actual truck with a laptop and Wi-Fi back there, where somebody can come up to the window and they can get the technical assistance to complete the Census,” Edinburg City Manager Ron Garza said.

Edinburg Mayor Richard Molina took to the streets Wednesday to accompany the vehicle, urging residents living in apartments near the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley to fill out the questionnaire.

“We need 66 people today to come in and get (the Census) started with us,” he said via a Facebook live video. “We have a goal of 65%.”

In return, respondents were offered ice cream treats, a Chick-fil-A gift card and an opportunity to win an RGV FC Toros prize pack.

“The only reason the ice cream (idea) came about, quite honestly, is because we needed to find a safe way to physically distance our staff,” Garza said. “And an ice cream truck kind of gives you (space).”

Recent census takers wait for ice cream as the city of Edinburg rewards census respondents with ice cream from a truck parked at El Bosque Apartments on Wednesday in Edinburg. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

So the city searched for a local vendor whose business had been hit hard by COVID-19.

“This is an ice cream vendor that was out of business due to the pandemic,” Garza said. “So until Sept. 30, we’re renting that truck from them.”

Edinburg staff will strategically deploy the truck to areas where the census self-response rate is low. The truck will be out and about four days out of the week: Wednesday thru Friday from 3 to 7 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

To find its location, residents are asked to search the city’s social media pages.

Meanwhile, the city will pay $60 per day to rent the truck and will also purchase the ice cream treats from the vendor, Garza said.

“It’s really nominal,” he said of the city’s investment. “We found individuals really do need technical assistance to help them complete the Census. So, we’ve been providing that. We help them with any questions that they need interpreted in English and Spanish, and we walk them through the questions, and they fill it out.”

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Census 2020 Response Rates

Edinburg 63.9%
McAllen 59.2%
Mission 54.4%
La Joya 51.3%
Pharr 54.8%
San Juan 57.8%
Weslaco 50.6%
Mercedes 48.3%
Harlingen 53.3%
Brownsville 57.2%
Rio Grande City 51.1%
Roma 48.9%

Source: Sept. 8, 2020 figures from 2020Census.gov