SULLIVAN CITY — In an effort to distribute $26 million to those struggling with housing, food security and other issues amid the pandemic, Hidalgo County Precinct 3 hosted a pop-up drive-thru event that served as outreach for families in need Tuesday.
Early this year, the county received $26 million to distribute to families in need. County officials, however, say those funds have largely gone unclaimed due to the public not knowing how to access them.
“It really has been more difficult than I anticipated, but we’re not giving up,” said Hidalgo County Community Service Agency Director Jaime Longoria. “We’re going to continue to try to provide services to families that are in need.”
Longoria said there is an urgent need in the community for these resources as was shown Tuesday night, when over 500 families were given food and guidance on how to apply for renters assistance and more.
Libby Ann Saenz, with the Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley, said each vehicle that showed up took home 160 pounds of food, double what she has ever done before for any event.
The food given was a mixture of frozen meats and dry goods like cans and cereals to last the families through the holiday season, Saenz said.
Aside from food insecurity, many families struggled with work amid the pandemic which affected their living situations. Longoria said many landlords opt to evict their tenants rather than find resources for them.
He said the county has until September of next year to distribute the funds and encourages families to educate themselves on the tools available to them; it is just a matter of accessing them.
Every month that passes, the federal government will take 10% back as part of a clawback provision if the money is not used.
“There is something to be said for families that are struggling, they’ve done everything they can to keep up with their rent payments, that’s no. 1,” Longoria said. “No. 2 is we received the money in February, March and the program started in April. I think by then a lot of the landlords were really at their wits end, you know. They’ve been carrying families for a year in some cases. … The other thing is that there is a level of lack of confidence or fear from some of the families that these programs are designed for. And really they have nothing to fear.”
Nora Alonso and Sofia Sosa, a mother and daughter from Sullivan City, said what drew them to the event was the help with food, which they say they appreciate.
Alonso also said she appreciates how the volunteers do not discriminate against those in need and said she feels it is a safe space where they can get help.
At the event, volunteers asked attendees questions about their housing situations and told those who qualified that they could come back Wednesday for help cutting through the red tape.
Longoria said the county will have representatives on-hand Wednesday to help families fill out applications and begin the process of attaining rental assistance.
Since the pandemic, Longoria said the program has done everything it can to make it as easy to apply as possible, from allowing expired licenses to even taking people’s word for how much income they make.
Tuesday’s drive-thru event was one of four that the county plans to hold this month. The next will be Thursday.
Those who cannot make it to the pop-ups can also apply online at hidalgocsa.org.