McALLEN — Vehicles began forming a line in the center lane of Jordan Road to the west nearly three hours before the scheduled 10 a.m. start of the Hope Family Health Center’s second annual Feast of Sharing.
One by one, the vehicles filed into the parking lot of the clinic, located at 2332 Jordan Road. Volunteers approached each vehicle and placed white laminated cards with large orange numbers signaling how many meals were needed.
Volunteers rushed back and forth, some carrying bags with styrofoam plates from tables set up outside of the building to the vehicles, and others going in and out of the building to add more plates to the quickly depleting tables.
The scent of roasted turkey seeped out of the open door leading to the kitchen area of the building, known to the clinic’s workers as “the ropero,” Spanish for closet. There, other volunteers prepared the plates with military-like efficiency. They formed a line, moving from station to station and filling each plate with turkey, brown gravy, stuffing, cranberry sauce, corn, green beans and a slice of pie.
By 10:30 a.m., all but the turkey, gravy and corn were left for the plates, but cars continued to line up and staff continued to fill the plates with what was left in the hopes that those who had waited in line all morning could have a warm Thanksgiving meal.
“We are here simply to stand in the midst of community and to say, ‘Happy Thanksgiving, and thank you for allowing Hope to be a part of your lives,’” Roxanne Ramirez, executive director of Hope Family Health Center, said.
The Feast of Sharing event was conceived just over a year ago when the clinic’s staff members encountered a person looking for a Thanksgiving meal while staff planned their own Thanksgiving luncheon.
“Last year we were getting ready to do our own Thanksgiving for the staff, and we happened to have a patient that walked in and asked if we had any canned food because he was homeless and he didn’t have food,” Ramirez said.
The Hope Family Health Clinic is a nonprofit organization that provides free medical and integrated behavioral care to the indigent and uninsured in the Rio Grande Valley. The clinic relies on grants, donations and volunteer services in order to continue providing health care to the community.
“When we heard that, immediately our own needs were kind of placed on the backburner,” Ramirez continued. “We said collectively, ‘We all have a meal for tomorrow, but we have a lot of patients that don’t have it.’ So we put all our efforts, everything that was for us, we just put it all for our community and our patients.”
Last year, the clinic was able to distribute 350 Thanksgiving meals. This year, the clinic nearly doubled the previous year’s efforts, distributing an estimated 700 meals.
“It just shows you the love of our staff,” Roberto Haddad, Hope Family Health Center board chair, said. “They said, ‘You know what? Instead of planning our luncheon, why don’t we do something for the community?’”
They also continued to offer healthcare services.
“We do have clinic this morning, so our patients are being offered food to take home with them,” Haddad said. “Sure some of our patients are coming, but if you look at the line, I think word just got out in the community.”
Recognizing the need of not only their patients but many in the community during the holiday season, the clinic offered meals to anyone who showed up Wednesday morning.
Both Haddad and Ramirez described the event as a community effort, with help from the Radisson Hotel McAllen Airport, which provided the meals, Clark Chevrolet, which provided canopies to keep the food and volunteers dry amid the cold and rainy weather, the National Hispanic Professional Organization, which provided some of the volunteers, as well as Mission Regional Medical Center and Sweet Somethin’s.
Itzel Rodriguez, 25, from Weslaco was one of the volunteers braving the cold and rainy weather, going in and out repeatedly to make sure that there was no shortage of warm food for those in line.
“I’m part of the Pre-Physical Therapy Club at UTRGV, and one of the members told us about this opportunity to volunteer here today,” Rodriguez said. “I’m just in charge of making sure that there are enough plates on the table to hand out. It feels really good to give back to the community. This is the year out of my four years that I’ve been at UTRGV that I’ve actually volunteered more. It feels really good to be able to give back to the community.
“I could be doing something else, and instead I’m here helping out and giving back,” she added.
Newly reelected state Rep. Oscar Longoria was also on hand for Wednesday’s event, distributing dozens of Girl Scout Cookies to the vehicles in line, courtesy of his wife, the troop leader for Troop No. 3304 of Mission.
“I told her I was going to do this event, and she said we had some Girl Scout Cookies we’re going to donate to our local food pantry,” Longoria said. “She’s like, ‘Bring them out here.’ So we’re here today. I was going to come here regardless. It was just easier to bring some cookies. We just loaded as many as we could into the car and brought them out here this morning.”
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