Originally publishes as an “Our View” in the Santa Fe New Mexican on July 2, 2024.

OUR VIEW

Sherry Hooper and the Food Depot — game-changers

Sherry Hooper has left the building.

The last day at work for the longtime Food Depot executive director was Sunday, marking more than two decades of leadership that transformed how food is delivered to hungry people in nine Northern New Mexican counties. We are grateful for her service and for the organization that has transformed as the needs of the community changed.

Today, this beloved community partner delivers 9 million pounds of food annually.

When she began at the food bank in September 2001, much of the food available had been prepared in restaurants. Hooper saw the need for shelf-stable goods that people could take home and turn into tasty, healthy meals for themselves and their families. Additionally, she had to lay down a stronger institutional structure — The Food Depot lacked adequate agency records, financial reserves and had few big donors to fund its programs. Her days would be spent working in the warehouse and then late into the night writing grants and donor assistance requests.

She knew the need was great and her services had to expand.

By 2007, she was ready to begin work on that expansion. In 2013, The Food Depot moved into its own warehouse — 27,000 square feet of storage. That allowed more staples to be on hand and made it possible to expand healthy offerings. The expanded depot also began offering wraparound services to provide diapers and pet food to those in need.

The agency always was ready to react as the situation on the ground changed. The Food Depot — twice a Santa Fe Community Foundation Piñon Award Tried and True winner — continually seeks to improve. One way that happens is the involvement of hundreds of community members in the work of feeding people. The desire to fight hunger, in addition to putting food in people’s bellies, also has created a community of compassionate people. Whether attending the much-anticipated Souper Bowl fundraiser each year, participating in the Neighbor to Neighbor Fund Drive or putting on a food drive, the work brings people together in Santa Fe.

Nowhere was that more evident than in the dark days of the coronavirus pandemic. With so many individuals out of work, schools closed and senior centers shut, many more people in the community didn’t have enough to eat. The Food Depot started handing out bags of groceries directly, with hundreds of cars in line at each distribution. For kids unable to get free lunches at school, meals were prepared and parents swung by school parking lots to take food home.

Just as The Food Depot proved to be innovative with food delivery, Hooper understood her group had to do more than provide food, as important as that was. She became an advocate for better food policy, whether at the local, state or federal level. She was instrumental in forming the Santa Fe Food Policy Council in 2008, lobbied for elimination of the food tax at the Legislature and raises alarms whenever Congress threatens to harm important food security programs. She also is an outspoken supporter of better wages because, as research shows, when people earn a decent paycheck, they can afford groceries. Eliminating poverty will help eliminate hunger.

Now, Hooper has new adventures ahead. As is important for a good leader, she trained a worthy successor. Her longtime second in command, Jill Dixon, has been named executive director. In Dixon’s capable hands, we are sure new approaches are inevitable — this is an ever-changing organization, after all — with eyes focused always on the goal of eliminating hunger.

But future successes, in part, will owe much to the 20-plus years Sherry Hooper spent at the helm. Her work to eliminate the insecurity that comes when the next meal is uncertain and the cupboard is bare has made the difference in the lives of thousands of New Mexicans. What a legacy.

From The Food Depot Staff: 

Read more about Sherry Hooper in the Summer 2024 edition of the Depot Dispatch 
Donate to our “22 Years Strong Fund” in honor of Sherry Hooper’s impact: