Mobile unit helps South Texas Food Bank SNAP outreach

by Salo Otero

The South Texas Food Bank’s mission of feeding the hungry  Supplemental Nutrition Assistance  Program (SNAP) Outreach  Program  has taken  on a new  meaning with the addition of a  vehicle  that was unveiled on  Feb. 5.

The mobile unit has been  assigned  to the South Texas Food Bank for the next two months  to help  sign up  new  SNAP   clients.  SNAP is formerly Food Stamps. The colorful vehicle, with the lettering Community Connections,  is in  cooperation with the Texas Food Bank Network and H-E-B.   The South Texas Food Bank is the first of the 20-strong  Texas  Food Bank Network to use  the  unit.  The STFB serves an  impoverished eight-county area  from Del Rio to Rio Grande City.

 Julie Lara  and David Ayala  of the H-E-B  Public Affairs Department delivered the $135,000  vehicle to the  South Texas Food Bank at  1907  Freight at Riverside.  They  had a training session with  the  STFB outreach staff  on its  features.   Alma Blanco is the SNAP Outreach coordinator. Her staff includes  three   working in   Laredo-Webb County, Jim Hogg,  Zapata and Dimmitt.  Also, two  are based in Maverick for Val Verde and Kinney and one in Starr County.

  “The mobile van will give us better access to the community in helping clients sign up for benefits.  Because it is wired for WiFi, our staff can register clients online for much quicker  results,”  food bank executive director Alfonso Casso said. “There are eight computers  on board. There were times  where in certain communities, we would set up tables in people’s back yards  and by word of mouth, clients would show up.  This unit has its own generator so we can set up anywhere.”

Blanco, the outreach coordinator since 2007 , said  the average is almost 200  SNAP applications per month  and  almost 400  that include other benefits like CHIP,  Medicaid for Children and women’s health programs.

“We’re working on  educating  the  public that they might qualify for assistance.  Some don’t  know the guidelines and how the programs works. The SNAP  on-demand pilot program  is  a huge plus.  On demand,  people have applied in the morning and by the afternoon they’re  covered,” Blanco noted.

 With a poverty rate of 30-plus percent,  those who  qualify  in Laredo and South Texas are plentiful.  Still  millions of  dollars earmarked  to feed  the hungry go unused because qualifying  candidates do not apply for assistance. For information call the South Texas Food Bank (956) 726-3120 or check the website

South Texas Food Bank board members Erasmo Villareal and Doug Howland were on hand for the press conference that showed up the mobile vehicle in the food bank parking lot.




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