By STEVE CLARK and FERNANDO DEL VALLE, Staff Writers
This week virtually every restaurant with the lights on and any food to sell has had a line of people waiting to buy it, with lines of cars extending into the street a common sight at fast-food restaurants, for example.
With the power out people can’t cook easily and perishable food in household refrigerators, grocery stores and restaurants goes bad. The shelves at a Brownsville H-E-B were largely empty Thursday afternoon, with entire sections of the store depleted due of spoilage and/or mass buying on the part of the public.
Texas’ icy roads and widespread power outages have gouged a “severe disruption” in the food supply chain, stripping grocery store shelves that might take about two weeks to restock.
At H-E-B stores, meat freezers are nearly cleared out while many food products are emptying shelves.
Meanwhile, Mayor Chris Boswell is urging residents against “panic-buying.”
“There are a lot of empty shelves at H-E-B,” he said. “There’s no need to panic. I’m sure things will get back to normal in the next few days.”
At H-E-B, officials are limiting the purchase of some staples.
“The unprecedented weather event in Texas has caused severe disruption in the food supply chain,” Linda Tovar, the company’s senior public relations manager for the border region, stated Thursday.
“Like many other Texans are experiencing, this disruption is complicated by power and water outages. For H-E-B, this means temporary impacts to manufacturing, warehousing, store operations and the daily lives of our partners and their families.”
Now, stores are counting on their warehouse inventories.
“While store conditions remain challenging for now, we have good inventories in our warehouses and our merchants and supply chain teams are working to push out key commodities of product to get back in stock as quickly as possible,” Tovar stated.
Meanwhile, the company has placed limits on some purchases.
“Product assortment will be limited for a few days,” Tovar stated. “We have placed limits on some items to help ensure access to the items customers need. We’re working around the clock to get more product to stores.”
Being hungry is for many yet another difficult aspect of the winter-weather crisis Rio Grande Valley residents are enduring, and the situation is putting more pressure than ever on the charitable agencies whose mission it is to alleviate food insecurity.
Brownsville Mayor Trey Mendez said food insecurity has been higher than usual since the pandemic struck and has become even worse in the grip of winter weather and extended power outages.
“All you had to do was look around at the places that were fortunate enough to have power,” he said. “They’ve had lines like they’ve never had before. McDonalds, Whataburger, Chick-Fil-A — anything that had the lights on was full, I can tell you. … Certainly the demand and the need for food has increased last few days, because there are some people who had food that spoiled.”
In some cases residents can’t cook the food they do have because of power outages and many residents may not be able to get out of the house to find food, Mendez said. He said he heard from local H-E-B management that inventories of fresh meat had to be disposed of because of power outages, which has exacerbated shortages.
“It’s a big deal because fresh meats weren’t available for the most part of the last day or two, which is tough,” Mendez said.
United Way of Southern Cameron County does a United Against Hunger drive each Friday and was already giving out around 2,000 bags of groceries every week even before the winter assault, he said.
“Certainly there’s a lot of hungry people out there right now and we’re aware of that,” Mendez said. “That’s why we continue to support the operations of these entities that do help provide food.”
Residents and households confronting food insecurity should seek help through agencies such as UWSCC, Good Neighbor Settlement House, Ozanam Center or Food Bank RGV, he said.
Wendy De Leon, UWSCC development and communication director, said all of her organization’s partner nonprofit agencies are experiencing an increase in the need for food assistance.
“We expect our food line to be longer than the previous week, so we ordered extra food for our (Feb. 19) distribution,” she said. “Depending on the status of the food bank that can be anywhere between 500 to 1,000 extra bags.”
Linda Tovar, H-E-B senior manager of public affairs, said in a statement that the company is monitoring the impact from the weather and working closely with power companies “to do our part to both serve Texans with groceries and to help reduce the pressure on the power grid.”
“While store conditions remain challenging for now, we have good inventories in our warehouses and our merchants and supply chain teams are working to push out key commodities of product to get back in stock as quickly as possible,” she said.
Tovar said the unprecedented weather event had severely disrupted the food supply chain, a situation further complicated by power and water outages.
“For H-E-B, this means temporary impacts to manufacturing, warehousing, store operations, and the daily lives of our (employees) and their families,” she said.
Tovar said the company’s employees were doing their best to help customers, that many stores are operating on limited hours, and that H-E-B is working around the clock to get more products in stores.
“We understand this is a difficult time,” she said. “We are working to get back to normal as soon as possible.”
Tovar said product assortment will be limited for a few days and that buying limits have been placed on some items to help make sure there’s enough for everyone. Curbside and home delivery have been temporarily canceled and will resume as soon as possible, she said. Pharmacy hours will depend on store hours, and the H-E-B & Favor Senior Support line will be closed through today Feb. 19.
Food Bank RGV: (956) 682-8101, foodbankrgv.com
Good Neighbor Settlement House: (956) 542-2368, goodneighborsh.org
Ozanam Center: (956) 831-6331, ozanambrownsvillecenter.org
United Way of Southern Cameron County: (956) 548-6880, unitedwayrgv.org