While the food pantry in Los Fresnos, TX, originally started as an assistance-type program to fill a need in the community, it has become a participatory venue for sharing and identifying common struggles through Outreach International facilitation. People such as Francisca and Jose.
Francisca lives with her husband Jose and teenage daughter Maria in a dilapidated mobile home near the Mexican border. Rent is $150 a month. The home sits on property behind the house of their landlady, who offers the low rent in exchange for cutting the yard and maintaining the mobile home. Using their old minivan with a small trailer hitched to it, Jose, age 64, travels around the area doing odd jobs such as cleaning yards and selling scrap metal. Work is not consistent, and when jobs are not available, the family must subsist on Jose’s Social Security and their daughter’s government assistance check, amounting to $300 a month.
Their mobile home lacks the proper wiring to supply enough electricity to sustain the family’s needs, connected only by outlets to their landlady’s home. During cold weather, the family keeps warm by piling on extra layers of clothes or blankets, because they are unable to run even a small heater. To do so would cause the breaker box to switch off in the landlady’s home. In summer, they swelter as their mobile home becomes like an oven, and they spend much of their days outside their house.
Several years ago, Francisca’s family began construction on a house in Mexico, thinking it would be less expensive to live there. But they have not been able to afford to continue building. They are also concerned that their daughter may not receive a good education. This is a priority for them – as they know from experience how hard it is to get ahead without it. This hope that things will be different for her – in spite of their limited means – is what keeps them on the U.S. side of the border.
With a limited income, the family began coming to the food pantry to help supplement their meals and allowing them to pay other bills. When the food pantry was in danger of closing, they and other residents met to take over the food distribution. And as they worked together, collective issues began to emerge: the lack of adequate housing and utilities, income and education. All things they desperately hope will turn out better for their children.
By meeting together, residents such as Francisca and Jose realize they now have a place to can explore available options and collectively support each others’ dreams. And as a result of the food pantry, they are taking on more and more responsibilities, learning more skills, networking and making new friends in the process. This support system not only allows them to help each other, but empowers them to create a new future for their family.