MISSION — Rio Grande Valley residents who’ve lost power in the wake of unseasonably cold temperatures continued to struggle Tuesday, coping with having no water to drink or bathe in, no way to heat or store food, and no way to stay warm.
Hundreds lined up at gas stations and propane dealerships, buying fuel to keep heaters or their vehicle — and its heaters — running.
Others headed to grocery stores and fast food restaurants in an attempt to pick up a warm meal.
“We realize that with the loss of power inevitably comes the loss of food,” said Stuart Haniff, CEO of the Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley. “For people who are struggling to keep food on their table, that can be even more detrimental. So the food bank really steps into action and steps up through our distributions and our charity partners.”
Haniff says Fook Bank RGV has altered its operations to cope with outages. Many of its employees lack water and power.
Prior to the storm, the food bank planned for next Wednesday was prepared to distribute food for 3,500 families — a lucky coincidence, Haniff said. For many, that food will be critical.
“The food bank and our partner agencies is a lifeline and a safety net,” he said. “Understandably people who have lost power or water or both — we understand that the need for the food bank is even greater. We expect higher turnout for our drive-thru panties, for our pop-up distributions, for any utilization of our charity partners.”
That need spurred Romeo Ponce, owner of Tacos Yoya in Mission, to take more immediate action Tuesday.
Inspired by seeing the city around him darkened Monday evening and his own struggles with the outages (a burst pipe meant Ponce had to shower with water bottles Tuesday), Ponce volunteered to give out a free meal to-go to anyone who needed one.
The little 26-chair taqueria served 548 plates in five hours, struggling to keep up with a desperate line of people trying to find a hot meal for themselves or a loved one stranded at home.
“We’re trying our best. It’s not much — but something’s something,” Ponce said.
Ponce and his team served meals until they ran out of ingredients, but he doesn’t see it as a financial hit.
“You make money down the road. God helps everybody who helps out,” he said. “I’ve been here for two years and people have been helping me out, buying food from us and everything, keeping us alive in the pandemic and everything. So that’s why. I felt lucky.”
One of the people picking up a meal at Ponce’s on Tuesday was Veronica Gutierrez of Alton.
Gutierrez said she’s been without power or water since Monday. She said about 30 people in the neighborhood have banded together to cook communaly on one family’s outdoor grill, trying to use up the food before it goes bad.
A little meat, soup and a lot of eggs have made up the menu so far, Gutierrez said.
“Now we know that we take everything for granted,” she said.
A few miles away from Ponce’s taco shop, the cold drove Lee and Al Hofstra outdoors at Wagon City South Mobile Home Park.
Winter Texans from Michigan, the Hofstras’ power went out around 3 a.m. Monday. They spent much of Tuesday out of their chilly trailer, going for breakfast, visiting a neighbor’s campfire and even just sitting in their car with the heater running and the news on.
“All the 40 years we’ve been here, we’ve never seen it before,” Lee said.
A couple of trailers down from the Hofstras, Brian Liggett was visiting with friends and family around a campfire. Liggett had the bad luck of flying into the Valley on vacation Monday.
“It was actually warmer being inside in Minnesota than it is here,” he said.
Despite lacking power and having struggled to find gasoline and groceries, Brian, his father Bob and the rest of their friends and family were making the most out of the day. They’d managed to find a case of Keystone Light and were partaking while enjoying the — to them — temperate afternoon.
“This is how we cope,” Bob joked.
Despite that, the Liggetts expressed their frustration at the outages and Texas’ response to the storm. They also expressed their concern.
“What scares me is pipes freezing,” Bob said. “You can only do so much.”
Monitor staff writer Francisco E. Jimenez contributed to this report.