MISSION, Texas – An out-of-state contractor has been scrambling to cook and prepare enough meals for the ever increasing number of family-unit migrants housed at a temporary detention facility in Donna. 

The federally-approved contractor was first asked to produce 240 meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner. But, within 36 hours the number had risen to 3,800. 

So, the contractor called in Othal Brand, Jr., who runs a faith-based non-profit in the Rio Grande Valley. Brand has experience in logistics and distributing food in colonias. He also has commercial kitchens at the non-profit’s retreats in Mission and La Feria.

Brand said the sudden increase in the number of meals needed is a sign that the tents in Donna are filling up fast. 

“Absolutely, this tells me Donna is filling up fast. We are having to increase capacity on the fly. It is very challenging to step up the game,” Brand said. 

“When you are talking about 3,800 meals, just for breakfast, and then the same amount for lunch and dinner, that is a lot. The federal contractor contacted me a week ago. It was going to be 150 to 200 meals at a time. We have gone from 150 to 3,800 in less than a week.”

Brand said he wanted to help for two reasons. One is to help feed the migrants. “We are talking about a humanitarian crisis in our own back yard.” He also wants to help the contractor meet his target. “These contractors know there are possibilities of having a great burden placed on them. But you certainly do not think it will go from 200 people a day to 3,800 a day in less than 36 hours. That is phenomenal.” 

Brand said the number of migrants keeps increasing. “In 24 hours it went from 2,400 meals to 3,000 to 3,200 to 3,800. They are getting more and more migrants every day.”

Brand said he had to increase his staff of volunteers and paid workers from 10 to 60 within 24 hours. He said he may have to bring in another 30 workers in the next few days. “There will be a bunch of overtime, too, because if I get a good group, I am not going to lose them. I am not going to move them.”

Brand oversees the arrivals of ingredients for the meals at his non-profit’s retreat in Mission, with the packages delivered by Sysco. Brand’s workers then sort out the shipments and send them to his two commercial kitchens. One is at the same facility in Mission. The other in is in La Feria. 

“We have the menu. It is hot dogs, hamburgers, and we have to prepare the meals. The government wants the contractor to make finger food, food that does not need plates, bowls or utensils. They are doing hamburgers and hot dogs and burritos and tacos, all the meals you can hold in your had and eat.”

Asked what he thought about the Biden Administration’s immigration policy, Brand was diplomatic, “We have to feed these migrants. We don’t control this immigration. All the illegal activity on the river, we don’t control it. All we can do is try to manage it in our community in an orderly way, in an orderly fashion, in whatever way we can to accomplish that goal. There are a lot of things we don’t like but you deal with them until you can get them changed.”

Brand learned all about logistics when working for his father’s business, Griffin & Brand, as a young man.

“This is what I used to do for a living. When I was in the produce business we handled over 1,000 items in the frozen section. On the produce side, 175 different items. We handled the procurement of all the packaging materials, the planning of the seasons, when to plant, when to harvest, when to pack. This is old school but always a challenge and usually never the same twice in a row.”

Brand said he can see the feeding of migrants at the Donna facility lasting many months. 

“We will see. We do not see it declining, not even close. So, short of being fired, we are going to work it through. But, it is very challenging to say the least.”

USDA’s Farmers to Family program

Brand has led the Harlingen-based faith-based non-profit for the past 18 years. 

“It is all about being persistent, staying on course and knowing what your purpose is. Had we not been doing this USDA Farmers to Family program, we would not have been able to facilitate this contractor with feeding the illegals coming across now. It is building on top of what you have.”

Under the Farmers to Family program, food that would otherwise have been thrown away during the coronavirus pandemic is brought to the Valley and distributed in the colonias. 

“We have sat here for a year with no activities, no mission groups in the Valley, because of the coronavirus. The USDA program has been a lifesaver for the people of the Valley.”

Brand said he was almost certainly going to miss church on Sunday because he has 11 truckloads of produce coming in to his warehouse. 

USDA Farmer to Family is a program (President) Trump put together for the pandemic. It is all U.S. produce. It was done to help the farmers not have to plough under and to stop the dairy farmers pouring their milk away. Trump said to the farmers, I want you to stop that. I want you to get contractors, package it and get it distributed to those that have been impacted by the pandemic.”

Brand said the program has been in place since April, 2020. 

“The majority of the food goes into the colonias. With the Food Bank, you have to have a car. But, statistically, here in the Valley, over half the people in the colonias do not have a car. This is what we call the last mile. We engage with the churches and they are actually taking the food to the homes.”

Brand said he has been told his Farmer to Family operation has been the largest national distribution project outside of the food banks.

“Almost two million boxes since last April. These boxes come mixed, they are about 22 pounds in weight, with two types of pre-cooked meat, three fruits and vegetables, sour cream, yoghurt, one pound of cheese and one gallon of milk and sometimes a dozen eggs.”

Brand said he gets around 30 truckloads of produce a week. 

“The contractors say, well, we are sending you a lot of food but I say, look at our demographics. We live in an area that is almost 1.5 million people and the poverty rate here is 33 to 40 percent. The national average is 11.3 percent. So, the Valley should be getting more because we have a larger need. We have been able to convince them of that.”

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