McALLEN, Texas – A McAllen mayoral candidate says he does not deserve credit for distributing $70 million worth of food to the needy of South Texas over the past year.
Rather, Othal Brand, Jr., said, all the praise should go to the 1,000 churches his nonprofit interacts with.
Brand leads a faith-based charity in the Rio Grande Valley that has been working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture since the start of the coronavirus pandemic to distribute boxes of food to those most in need.
Over two million boxes of food valued at $35 a box have been delivered to five distribution hubs administered by the nonprofit. Those hubs, located in the Valley, Laredo and Corpus Christi, sometimes receive a dozen truckloads of food each weekend. Local churches eagerly pick up the boxes from the hubs.
Word on the success of the operation has now reached other parts of the nation. So much so that a distributor in Dallas asked Brand if he could also take refrigerators, ovens and other kitchen appliances. Brand said “yes” provided he can give them away to the churches for free. “The newest line to come in has been a truckload of chocolate. We had to refrigerate that in a hurry,” Brand told The Rio Grande Guardian.
Much of this charity work would have been kept away from the public eye had local community leader Carey Kinsolving not mentioned it at a recent breakfast event hosted by the Brand for Mayor campaign at the Country Omelette restaurant in McAllen. Brand is running for mayor of McAllen.
As the event was about to end, Kinsolving got up and gave his reasons for supporting Brand.
“I have known Othal since the McHi swim team. This man does more behind the scenes than probably all of us in this room together,” Kinsolving said.
“He (Brand) has not said anything but (President) Trump had a program with farmers who were throwing away food. He got tons of that food. He was the largest distributor of food outside of the foods bank in the country. And he was getting food out to churches through the pandemic and lots of people ate because he had the vision to enable people to get food for free. There are lots of things he does that you don’t even see.”
Kinsolving runs the RGV Children’s Arts Festival. He said Brand has been supporting it from the beginning.
“I cannot say enough about how we need Othal Brand. He has got the experience, he has got the vision and he has got the heart.”
Brand might not have brought up the work of his faith-based nonprofit had it not been for Kinsolving’s remarks. But, because Kinsolving did mention it, Brand decided to fill in some of the blanks.
“Trump started the Farmer to Family Box Program. The farmers were dumping their stuff. He said, we have got to stop that. He told USDA to contract with people and pack all that stuff and buy it, only American. Chicken, beef, whatever. (Trump said) you pack it and then you turn around and give it away for free to those who have been affected that are not essential workers,” Brand explained.
“Somebody asked me, would I like to participate. I said, okay but I have never done it before. We have been doing it since last April. As of this weekend we will have done over two million boxes, valued at $35 a box. That has gone to this Valley, to this city and this part of Texas.”
Brand said he set up five distribution points where churches can pick up the food. He said he has nothing but praise for the churches he is working with.
“I cannot take the credit for it. The 1,000 churches that we have worked with over the last year have been the heroes. They even came out during the freeze, 24 degrees. They showed up in trucks to pick up stuff and took it out to the colonias.”
Brand said his nonprofit takes a different approach to the nation’s food banks.
“The food banks do a great job. But we do things differently. In the United States of America, 11.3 percent live below the poverty level. Of that 11.3 percent, 20 have no automobile. You want food from the food bank, you have to drive your automobile and have a trunk to put the food in,” Brand said.
“In South Texas, in the four counties we live in, our poverty level is between 33 to 40 percent. Three or four times the national average. Twenty-five percent of the people that live in McAllen live below the poverty level. One in four. That is a lot of people. What are we doing for them? I don’t know but there is plenty of work to do.”
Based on the Census Bureau poverty numbers, Brand calculates that 50 percent or more of the Valley’s colonia residents do not have an automobile.
“They have no automobile to go to the food bank to get food. So, these churches that I am working with, they are taking that food to the colonias and handing it to them at the front door. They are the heroes, not me.”
Kinsolving interjected. “But, my point is, this man (Brand) had the vision to make this happen. And if that is all he did, and he no other experience, I would vote for him.”
Brand responded: “I will pay you for that.” The joke drew a big laugh from the audience.
Eli Lara, a pastor of New Life Family Church, said he wanted to back up what Kinsolving was saying because all the accolades coming Brand’s way were deserved. “I want to back him because it is true,” Lara said.
Lara said when Brand told him he had hundreds of boxes of food to distribute, he immediately got in touch with other pastors. He said he and his team started delivering boxes of food to the homeless in McAllen.
“I called all my friends in the Valley. I know God is using him but what he is doing is phenomenal,” Lara said of Brand.
“When he calls us, we take a trailer, two or three trailers and we go door-to-door and hand them (the boxes) out. He made that possible. I am telling you, this man is a great guy. He won’t accept that because he is a humble guy too.”
Lara urged those in the audience to get behind Brand’s campaign also.
“We have got to do our job and get him in office. Let me tell you something, there are very few people like him. I have known him for many years. I know his heart. We have sat down and talked a lot about this,” Lara said.
“I am going to do my very best to get him into office. I guarantee you, all those pastors that we work with, they know, they will tell you who he is. He has been standing tall for all the people that need help.”
Brand closed the breakfast event by talking about poverty and a lesson he learned about it as a child on a trip with his father to Mexico.
“I can never tell you I have ever been poor. My Dad went through the Depression. His Dad lost his arm in a machine accident and was fired. He became an alcoholic and could not get a job because he was a one-armed man. He (Brand’s father) and his four brothers had to drop out of school at 10th grade. So, my Dad never got a high school degree,” Brand said.
“My Mom worked on the farm, they were sharecroppers growing up, moved from house to house, farm to farm. My parents said, our kids are never going to live like that. Never. We didn’t.”
Brand said that first visit to Mexico was educational.
“My Dad knew what poverty was. He lived through the Depression. He shared a lot of that when we were growing up. When I was nine years old, I was dyslexic. My mother put me in summer school, first grade, second grade. She started doing it in third grade. I had known nothing but school for years. My Dad came in one day and said he is not going to summer school. He is going with me.
“We were farming in Mexico. My Dad farmed in Mexico for half a century. First time down there. We land on an open field. We get out of the plane. A little lady comes up and says in Spanish to my Dad, please, let me feed you breakfast. This is my first experience in Mexico.
“We leaned down and went in her thatch-roofed home, Sat on her dirt floor by the fire, had two eggs, bacon and tortillas. I told my Dad… I had been living at 1400 Esperanza my whole life… Dad, I don’t want to eat that food. My Dad says, yes you are. I said again, Dad I don’t want to eat that food. He says, son, you see those two kids sitting over there? Yes, sir. You see those two eggs, yes, sir. She is giving them to us, the food for her family, to honor us. You will eat it and my God, if you get sick I will kick you.”
Brand said he traveled with his Dad every summer through Mexico and Central America from that point on, for as long as the family farmed.
“No one had to teach me. I did not have to live it. He (Brand’s father) taught me what poverty was. I know what it is. I know when I see it. You all know when you see it. That is part of our job in life. My Dad said, there are only two things in life for those of us of faith. One is to bring those souls to the noble Lord and two is to leave this world a better place than you found it. That is my job“
Brand concluded: “I believe the value in life is what we are doing, what we do day to day. That is the value we have in our lives. I am going to stop now because I am going to start sounding like a preacher.”
Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above feature shows Othal Brand, Jr., and pastor Eli Lara.
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