By Marv Knox
When the COVID-19 pandemic forced many nonprofits in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley to shut down, Hearts4Kids rallied volunteers to take up the slack. And thanks to Cooperative Baptist Fellowship donors, the CBF Coronavirus Emergency Relief Fund fueled the effort for almost a month.
“H4K’s mission is to stay committed and focused to serve those who are suffering and hungry,” the ministry’s founder, Jorge Zapata, explained. “We knew at the beginning of the pandemic Rio Grande Valley families would be most affected because of their socio-economic status.”
Hearts4Kids ministers across the five-county Rio Grande Valley, along the U.S.-Mexico border at the southern tip of Texas. It particularly serves the Valley’s colonias, impoverished unincorporated villages that are home to immigrant families. Mostly laborers and agriculture workers, they were among the first in the nation to feel the severity of the pandemic’s economic calamity.
“Many non-profits closed their doors in the Valley due to the fear of infection, while H4K’s staff coordinated more that 750 volunteers to serve 6,000 people a week,” Zapata reported.
Zapata is associate coordinator of CBF Texas and director of Fellowship Southwest’s immigrant relief ministry, which serves asylum seekers the length of the border.
Hearts4Kids consistently partners with local food banks, other providers and government agencies to secure distribution of food and basic necessities for colonia residents. The number of families needing assistance escalated as the pandemic set in, and families who never had visited a food pantry found themselves seeking help, Zapata said.
He set up a distribution system that included more than 70 churches. The extensive network and delivery process enabled even residents without vehicles to pick up food.
Even with increased collaboration among food suppliers, Hearts4Kids needs $2,000 per week to keep the feeding operation open. The funds purchase additional food; other supplies, such as diapers and hygiene products; and even rent for refrigerated trucks, which have delivered donated milk.
CBF provided a $7,000 grant from its Coronavirus Emergency Relief Fund to help sustain Hearts4Kids’ feeding ministry as the pandemic raged.
And Hearts4Kids enabled the participating congregations to serve Valley residents in Jesus’ name, Zapata reported. In the serving lines, many people would roll down their windows and say, “Dios los bendiga”—“God bless you”—as volunteers loaded their trunks with boxes of food.
One family illustrated the deep need mixed with intense gratitude that reflects the pandemic’s calamity, Hearts4Kids’ response and families’ reaction, he said.
“After picking up their box full of food and two gallons of fresh milk, the father parked their car and came to one of our leaders,” he recalled. “Their family—including his wife and two young girls—had an empty refrigerator that morning, and he cooked his last egg.
“He prayed and asked God to help him and his family, because there was no food. His wife asked, ‘Where are we going?’ He answered, ‘I do not know, but I cannot stay here.’ He remembered this small church, where he would see a line of cars. He prayed to God for a miracle. As he approached the church, he was happy to see a line of cars.
“He was afraid he would be rejected because he had no number or appointment. To his surprise, he was greeted and was blessed with a box full of food and two gallons of milk. He said, ‘Esa caja no solo me trajo comida pero esperanza que Dios si escucha’—‘That box was not only full of food, but of hope that God listens to prayer.’”
Zapata and Ricardo Brambila, chair of the Hearts4Kids board of directors, expressed thanks to CBF and its Coronavirus Emergency Relief Fund. It enabled this hurting family—and thousands more across the Rio Grande Valley—to witness a miracle and to continue surviving the pandemic.
To contribute to CBF’s Coronavirus Emergency Relief Fund and to support ongoing pandemic relief for immigrants and other at-risk families, click here.
Marv Knox is coordinator of Fellowship Southwest, a collaborative network for churches that want to organize around shared compassion for people across Arizona, New Mexico, Northern Mexico, Oklahoma, Southern California and Texas.