American Heart Association - South Texas MidMarkets

Food For Thought: American Heart Association Prayer Breakfast for Healthy Food Access

Food For Thought: American Heart Association Prayer Breakfast for Healthy Food Access

McAllen, TX (November 2, 2016) -- National Eating Healthy Day, which falls on the first Wednesday of November, is a day when the American Heart Association encourages Americans to commit to healthier eating with a goal of lowering risks for heart disease and stroke. But not all communities have access to healthy and nutritious food. In fact, more than 3.4 million Texans lack adequate access to grocery stores, forcing many to rely on packaged foods, fast food, and other heavily processed foods that contribute to higher rates of obesity and diet-related diseases. Despite a strong culture focused on traditions of food and family in the Rio Grande Valley, the challenges to healthy food access here are numerous.

Community leaders and representatives of a number of local organizations gathered on Wednesday to share breakfast on National Eating Healthy Day and to discuss healthy food access in the Rio Grande Valley. Speakers included Dr. Art J. Cavazos; Imam Noor Ahmad; Rabbi Claudio J. Kogan; Rev. Robert A. Perales; Sister Norma Pimentel; Rose Timmer, Barbara Storz, Evelia C. Castillo, and Elaine Hernandez.

With an audience of approximately 70 gathered for the event, faith leaders shared personal reflections and led prayers focused on the importance of healthy food access and public health leaders offered multiple ways for attendees to get involved with the issue. Dr. Art Cavazos, Superintendent of Harlingen CISD, delivered a compelling key note address on why healthy food access is so critical to the future generations of the Valley and how the school systems can reduce obesity amongst students and their parents. Following the event, several participants, including health practitioners from Methodist Healthcare Ministries in McAllen and Working on Wellness Coalition student members from Weslaco High School, met with local lawmakers on discuss food access policies to be raised during the 85th Legislative Session.

Selected remarks from Speakers:

Imam Noor Ahmad, Masjid Umar Al-Farooq Mosque, McAllen

“Everything we do in this world has a direct effect on us, and the generations to come… We know our actions come from the heart… That is also true of the physical heart... If our physical heart isn’t healthy, can we go around and help others? We can’t… there is nothing we can do.”

Dr. Art J. Cavazos, Superintendent, Harlingen Consolidated Independent School District

“It’s imperative we do what we can to stem the tide of obesity. This will only be possible if our communities have access to grocery stores. We must eliminate our food deserts and create oases of [food] access for our communities… Kids are anxiously waiting for the adults to get it right. They are ready. We just have to create the systems to make it happen. That is our responsibility; that is our charge.”

Rabbi Claudio J. Kogan, MD, MBE, MEd, Temple Emanuel, McAllen

“We are renting our lives, and should do the best we can to maintain our bodies… As a professor and medical doctor at UTRGV, [I share with my students that] one-third of the population in the Valley suffers from diabetes, one-third is misdiagnosed, and one-third will never know... If we can save a life, we are saving the world.”

Rev. Robert A. Perales, M.Div., Associate Pastor, McAllen First United Methodist Church

“Get connected, get informed, and be willing to give just a little bit more of yourselves, and of your time and of your resources, to impact our communities… We pray as we can give thanks for what we have… let that be a means of encouragement and a means of hope to propel us forward for those who do not have fruit, not just on their tables but within walking distance of their homes. [God has] called us not only to be stewards of our own bodies, but of our communities.”

Sister Norma Pimentel, Executive Director, Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley

“Unfortunately, some of the health issues we see a lot, diabetes and hypertension, are all major health concerns we have here in our Valley, and oftentimes this can be prevented by healthy eating and exercise. This is something that we, as leaders in our Valley… can help promote encourage healthier lifestyles and encourage our families to eat healthy and make healthy food accessible.”

Rose Timmer, Executive Director, Healthy Communities of Brownsville, Inc.

Rose moderated the panel consisting of Barbara, Elaine, and Evelia, as well as Christopher Walker of the American Heart Association. She shared, “There are many, many people with no transportation and no way to access food, and I think it’s really a wonderful cause that we’ve come together to support today.

How to get involved:

• The Texas Grocery Access Task Force is a statewide, cross sector coalition of organizations committed to improving access to healthy food in both rural and urban communities throughout Texas. The Task Force is leading an effort to establish a statewide healthy food financing initiative during the 85th Legislative Session. Its goal is to establish the Texas Grocery Access Investment Program to provide public funding to incentivize food retailers to build in underserved communities.

• The Task Force meets regularly and currently has a membership of more than two dozen organizations. It will continue to recruit strategic partners to join in the food access policy work at the state level.

• If you are interested in joining the Texas Grocery Access Task Force, or would like more information about supporting the work of the Task Force, please email

• Aside from the Task Force, if you are interested in joining this advocacy effort as an individual, to share your personal story or connection to the issue and raise your voice to state elected officials, please email

• The Prayer Breakfast participants and food access advocates are building collective power so that more families and communities can have adequate access to healthy food. Together we can help families overcome the barriers of accessibility and affordability in order to live longer, healthier lives, and hope you will join us in this movement.