Hunger is going to college as students struggle

MY VIEW By Sarita Cargas

Mar 23, 2024

Original Published in The Santa Fe New Mexican

Editor’s note: This is the latest in an occasional series on hunger in New Mexico.

College students are a privileged and entitled bunch. Or are they? Though it is a privilege to be recipients of the Opportunity Scholarship, for many, the opportunity to graduate with a degree will not be realized. Perhaps this is because thousands of New Mexico college students are hungry.

A recent survey by our University of New Mexico research team, soon to be publicly available, reveals 58% of students who participated in the study were food insecure, 46% were housing insecure and 14% were homeless. While it is too early to tell how many students will graduate on the Opportunity Scholarship, previous trends do not bode well.

The current six-year graduation rate at UNM is 47%, and many other New Mexico colleges have lower graduation rates. More than just good academic habits are required to reach the end goal. It is hard to study without a full stomach and a safe place to sleep. The basic needs of food and shelter come first, and thousands of our students do not have them.

This is what one student answered sarcastically when I asked a class to tell me if they felt privileged: “Does being privileged include having to worry about your next meal? … As a privileged college student, I get to neglect my basic needs to pass courses … while trying to help make this world a better place as a researcher and still barely afford … instant ramen.” In the statewide survey, students also shared experiences like: “Once I was so hungry that I did not have the energy to go to class, and I took a failing grade for the week.” Another said: “I had to miss class on more than one occasion to sell plasma so I could buy food.”

Perhaps you are wondering if they are working. The majority do have jobs. Even working full time does not guarantee stability because of the low-wage work students often do. This student explained, “My rent is behind, so sometimes I get overwhelmed and think it would be best I stop school and find another full-time job, and just work two full-time jobs.” We also discovered the problem of needs insecurity affects graduate students as much as undergraduates. Sometimes this is due to the fact that graduates working as teaching or research assistants on campus are not paid enough to live on. They told us that “the graduate assistantship stipends barely cover rent, bills, groceries and gas.” And, “The pay isn’t high enough for me to regularly eat healthy food. … I work [part time] and take 9-12 credit hours each semester, plus regular service work for my department, and trying to fit my own research in there somewhere, which means I do not have the time to pursue a regular second job.” It will come as no surprise that our data proves that needs-insecure students tend to have lower grades and more commonly drop out than their needs secure peers.

Though getting a college degree is the single best method of assuring upward mobility, leaving school without a degree and debt has contributed to downward mobility for the nearly 40 million Americans in this situation. Even with the Opportunity Scholarship, going to school carries expenses usually while working in low-paying jobs. The college dropouts in our state are in real economic danger if they do not finish with a credential. They need more support while in school.

Therefore, it is time do away with the myth of the privileged college student.

Sarita Cargas, Ph.D., is an associate professor of human rights at the University of New Mexico Honors College.

Original My View link from Santa Fe New Mexican: https://www.santafenewmexican.com/opinion/my_view/hunger-is-going-to-college-as-students-struggle/article_ebb3f3b8-e7a4-11ee-bf21-7787c3b591e4.html

Volunteer Richard Martinez loads strawberries as volunteers shuttle boxes of food for a line of cars stretching down Siler Road during the The Food Depot's drive-thru food distribution Thursday. The demand for food hasn't let up since the pandemic, a sign people are continuing to struggle to recover while facing economic pressures like high food prices and housing costs in Santa Fe. Jim Weber/The New Mexican


Santa Fe food bank still drawing long lines amid economic pressures

By Daniel J. Chacón - dchacon@sfnewmexican.com

Updated Mar 15, 2024

The line of motorists stretched down Siler Road by the time Edna Reyes-Wilson showed up at The Food Depot’s drive-thru food distribution at 6:45 a.m. Thursday.

“The people that are first in line are here since 3:30, 4 o’clock in the morning,” said Reyes-Wilson, who has been volunteering at the Santa Fe-based food bank since 2018.

“A lot of them come in their pajamas,” she said as she queried drivers on the number of households they were picking up food for and the number of people in each household. “They’ve got their blankets and their pillows, but they want to be sure they can get what they can get.”

The demand for food has showed few signs of slowing since the pandemic, a signal people are continuing to struggle to recover and facing other economic pressures, from high food prices to the exorbitant cost of living in Santa Fe.

“It’s definitely not as high today as it was in 2020 but … there’s definitely some spikes that have been noticeable over the past year, and it’s higher maybe than you would expect,” said Jill Dixon, who is taking over as The Food Depot’s executive director in July.

“Some of the compounding factors that we’re seeing are certainly just persistent increased costs, particularly around food,” she said. “Ultimately, the big story there is just the story we all know but maybe don’t want to admit: The cost of living for a basic-needs budget generally exceeds peoples’ income. We know that housing costs are astronomical, but food costs have gone up approximately 22% since the previous year, so it’s pretty bleak.”

The ongoing demand for food comes as the New Mexico Human Services Department continues to grapple with a high volume of renewal applications for food stamps, also known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, amid an unwinding of pandemic-era benefits.

The SNAP renewals coincided with renewals of the Medicaid program, both of which were performed automatically during the pandemic. Some 500,000 New Mexicans receive SNAP benefits and about 1 million are on Medicaid.

Department spokeswoman Marina Piña said it’s taking about 30 days to process what she called SNAP emergency applications and almost two months to process the regular applications.

But relief is in sight, she said.

“We are at the very end of the Medicaid unwinding period,” she said, referring to the end of continuous Medicaid enrollment required under pandemic-era regulations. “Once we finalize that period, we’re going to start seeing a more steady workflow of processing applications.”

New Mexico has long had one of the highest rates of food insecurity, particularly among children, in the country. Feeding America’s 2023 “Map the Meal Gap” report showed a 13.5% overall food insecurity rate in the state, the seventh-highest in the country behind a handful of Southern states, and at more than 19% the second-highest rate of food insecurity among children, behind only Louisiana.

While the problem is most pronounced in rural New Mexico, even relatively urban counties like Bernalillo and Doña Ana report food insecurity rates above the national average.

The Food Depot distributes food in what the organization calls a drive-thru pantry from 7-9 a.m. every other Thursday.

During Thursday’s distribution, the organization provided food, from fresh strawberries and frozen blueberries to 5-pound sacks of potatoes and canned goods, to 604 households and a total of 3,740 individuals.

“That’s more individuals, but a few less households, than our last distribution,” Amanda Bregel, The Food Depot’s spokeswoman, wrote in an email afterward.

The steady stream of people seeking food included young and old, men and women and a smattering of drivers with license plates from the Mexican state of Chihuahua. During the 8-9 a.m. hour, many of the motorists spoke only Spanish.

Some motorists arrived in beat-up old cars with broken windshields and babies in the back seat while others drove up in luxury vehicles, including a Lexus and a shiny Humvee.

The Food Depot asks motorists only how many families they’re picking up food for and the number of people in each family. Neither identification nor proof of income are required.

“The truth is that not a single one of us has any idea who owns that car that that person is driving, whether or not it’s the person that needs the food assistance or someone who’s picking up on behalf of someone who needs help,” Dixon said. “We have no idea whether that person bought that car with cash and their circumstances changed afterwards … and it may be all they have.”

The question about people who show up in expensive cars to pick up free food, which others ask, “reveals a fundamental flaw in our ability to put ourselves in the shoes of another person,” she said.

Around Thanksgiving, Dixon said she worked at a food bank in Arizona handing out turkeys with a Spanish-speaking woman showed up in a “really sweet” Audi SUV.

“She was starting to cry, and she said, ‘Please, please know that the car is not mine,’” she said.

When the woman popped the trunk open, “there were all these bags of groceries” from a fine foods grocery store in the back. The woman, Dixon said, explained the car and groceries belonged to “la jefa,” or her boss.

“She was like, ‘She sent me to go grocery shopping for her family’s Thanksgiving stuff. Now I’m just trying to stop here so I can have groceries for my family before I go home,’ ” Dixon recalled.

Dixon said The Food Depot’s food distribution is “definitely a no-questions-asked food pantry,” though the organization does ask how many people are in a household and how many households the driver is picking food up for as part of its data collection.

“We only allow one car to pick up for two households,” she said. “It’s very, very common for a household to be picking up for a neighbor, a parent, a friend, another family member.”

The drive-thru distribution now held at the organization’s warehouse off Siler Road was started by a now-defunct group called Feeding Santa Fe.

“It was an organization that gave away about 150 uniform parcels of food, so everybody got two cans of this, two cans of that, a thing of pasta, a thing of pasta sauce and most of that food was provided by The Food Depot, but they also did some purchasing and did their own fundraising,” Dixon said. “That was an organization that’s a really good example of organizations that didn’t survive the pandemic due to the average age of their volunteers and just an inability to scale to meet the growing demand.”

Since then, demand for food has ebbed and flowed, but the constant is that it remains steady.

During the pandemic, The Food Depot served between 700 and 900 households during distribution days, though there were a couple of “peak moments” where it served 1,000 households. The number dropped in 2021 but started rise in 2022, which correlated with an increase in food prices, Dixon said.

“We’re sitting pretty solidly [at] about 600 households per distribution now, which is unbelievably higher than it ever was for Feeding Santa Fe,” she said.

Deja Thomas, who was born and raised in Santa Fe, said she didn’t know about The Food Depot’s drive-thru pantry until she moved into the income-restricted Siler Yard apartments around December 2021 and noticed a line of people.

“My roommate and I started lining up at 6 a.m.,” she said.

Thomas, 27, who was handing out food Thursday, said she started volunteering at The Food Depot to express her appreciation and help the community.

“They allow me to pick up some food, and I just drive it over with my wagon,” she said. “It’s been great. It’s been really helpful to supplement how much food we have because we’re both low-income, and we can still afford some groceries, but this really helps, especially with staples.”

Original Article Link: https://www.santafenewmexican.com/news/local_news/santa-fe-food-bank-still-drawing-long-lines-amid-economic-pressures/article_24d5cd0a-e18e-11ee-a320-0b2215e77609.html

Volunteer Richard Martinez loads strawberries as volunteers shuttle boxes of food for a line of cars stretching down Siler Road during the The Food Depot's drive-thru food distribution Thursday. The demand for food hasn't let up since the pandemic, a sign people are continuing to struggle to recover while facing economic pressures like high food prices and housing costs in Santa Fe. Jim Weber/The New Mexican


The Food Depot Announces Jill Dixon to Serve as Executive Director

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

March 11,  2024

SANTA FE— The Food Depot’s Board of Directors announced today that Jill Dixon will succeed Sherry Hooper as the Executive Director of The Food Depot, Northern New Mexico’s Food Bank. Dixon, who has been with the food bank since 2012, will assume the lead role, effective July 1, 2024. 

Dixon currently serves as the Deputy Director of The Food Depot, a leadership role she has held since 2021. Len Rand, president of The Food Depot’s Board of Directors, expressed enthusiasm about the transition, stating, “We are pleased to announce this appointment. Jill brings a wealth of experience and a deep commitment to the communities we serve. She has been dedicated to The Food Depot for over a decade and has the full support of the board in her new role.” 

Dixon joined The Food Depot in 2012 as the organization’s first Development Director. One of her early successes was the “Building Hope” capital campaign for the warehouse in Santa Fe. Her continuous focus on providing healthy food and vital resources to families in New Mexico resulted in the development of many of The Food Depot’s innovative programs, all of which impact thousands of lives each day. Dixon oversaw the creation of multiple key programs, including The Food Depot’s Casita de Comida, Resource Navigation, Diaper Depot, Food 4 Pets, and The Food Mobile. As Deputy Director, she also guided the nonprofit through the development of its current strategic plan, which will lead The Food Depot through 2025. 

“I am so grateful for Jill’s leadership and the many wonderful years we have worked together,” says Sherry Hooper, the current Executive Director. “I know The Food Depot’s future is in capable hands.” 

“I would like to thank the board of directors for this opportunity,” says Dixon. “The Food Depot holds such a pivotal role in this community. It is an honor to serve our communities in such a profound way. I look forward to continuing to build on the initiatives and partnerships Sherry Hooper and I started together.” 

Dixon will succeed Sherry Hooper, The Food Depot’s longtime Executive Director, who assumed the leadership role in 2001. Hooper’s final day at The Food Depot is June 30, 2024. 


The Food Depot’s Executive Director Sherry Hooper to Retire

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

February 22, 2024

Following a long career of dedicated service to Northern New Mexico families, Sherry Hooper has elected to retire as Executive Director of The Food Depot effective June 30, 2024, after more than 22 years at the food bank. A transition committee is actively seeking a qualified individual to serve as The Food Depot’s next executive director. 

Hooper, who started with The Food Depot in September of 2001, is the longest-serving executive director in the food bank’s history.  Prior to her arrival in 2001, Hooper spent ten years at Harvesters Food Bank in Kansas City, MO, her hometown. Ensuring food security for others has been the work of her lifetime. 

“Leading The Food Depot has been one of my greatest joys. Every day I’ve had the opportunity to work with a community dedicated to providing healthy food to so many children and families. Northern New Mexico is now my second home, and I could not be more proud of the change we have made together,” says Hooper. 

Hooper’s vision for The Food Depot has been transformational. From a small organization operating from a warehouse less than 5,000 square feet, Hooper led the nonprofit through a capital campaign to construct the food bank’s current building in Santa Fe. Today, The Food Depot warehouse occupies 27,000 square feet, distributing over 9 million pounds of food annually through the hard work of 41 staff members and a corps of 708 active volunteers. Innovative programs, ambitious strategic plans, and strong partnerships have become the cornerstones of The Food Depot under Hooper’s pursuit for a truly hunger free Northern New Mexico. Her leadership has empowered the food bank to pivot and grow to meet crippling levels of need across a pandemic, natural disasters, and rising inflation. 

Today, The Food Depot stands as a Tried and True organization in Northern New Mexico, reliably providing food security to more than 40,000 people in nine counties. Hooper demands that The Food Depot follow the words of Desmond Tutu: “There comes a point where we need to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they’re falling in.” The Food Depot’s work now includes a focus on connecting people to wraparound services to more adequately address their needs, as well as a focus on advocacy that encourages systemic change. 

“Sherry is a remarkable person,” says David Barton, current board member and former President of The Food Depot Board of Directors. “Her energy,  intelligence and compassion are an inspiration. What a privilege to work with her for so many wonderful years.” 

As an indicator of her skills as a leader, Hooper has intentionally surrounded herself with a diverse and talented group of individuals ready to continue her legacy. The Food Depot’s current strategic plan was adopted in 2021 and will guide the organization through 2026. 

The Food Depot’s Board of Directors has appointed a dedicated transition committee to explore highly qualified individuals to fill the executive director position within the next several months. The Food Depot’s full leadership team is committed to providing their continued, steady leadership throughout the search and selection process. 

“The Food Depot is dedicated to our network of community partners and the people we serve,” assures Len Rand, current President of The Food Depot’s Board of Directors. “Sherry has made a tremendous impact on this organization. As part of the transition committee, I am confident we will appoint an executive director who will lead the food bank with the same wisdom and determination.” 

Over the Food Depot plans to host several scheduled opportunities for donors, partners, and the community to celebrate Sherry’s incredible impact on Northern New Mexico. Community members are encouraged to send Sherry a handwritten card to The Food Depot with a note of appreciation. Cards should be mailed to 1222 A Siler Road, Santa Fe, NM 87507.


Local food: A tool to reduce food insecurity

By Brooke Minnich

Editor’s note: This is the latest in an occasional series on food insecurity in Northern New Mexico.

Food insecurity in New Mexico is an ongoing issue. According to Feeding America’s Map the Meal Gap report, 1 in 8 people and 1 in 5 children face food insecurity in our state. Today, with high food prices and cuts to COVID-era SNAP benefits, this issue has become a crisis.

In times of uncertainty, how do we support resilient and sustainable communities? One simple solution can be found at farmers markets and food banks alike: local food. Farmers markets are hubs for accessible local food, and many accept SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly food stamps). SNAP recipients can increase their purchasing power by buying food through the Double Up Food Bucks program, managed by the New Mexico Farmers’ Marketing Association.

Using an EBT card at their local farmers market, SNAP recipients can double the value of their purchase of nutritious produce, with 95 cents of each dollar spent at a market staying in the farmer’s pocket, compared to 15 cents of that same dollar spent at a national grocery store. In fact, every dollar spent at a farmers market has a community impact of $1.80. Beyond economics is the value of geography: Most food in stores travels over 1,000 miles and is a week old, while farmers market food travels 50 miles or less and is freshly harvested. This means the food retains more nutrition and lasts longer, creating less waste while also tasting better.

Local food is not limited to farmers markets. This year is the inaugural season for New Mexico’s Regional Farm to Food Bank program. Funded through the U.S. Department of Agriculture in partnership with New Mexico Grown, the New Mexico Department of Agriculture and the New Mexico Farmers’ Marketing Association, and administered by The Food Depot, this program allows the New Mexico Association of Food Banks to purchase locally and regionally produced foods from farmers, ranchers and other producers at a fair price.

Participation from producers is free, with the requirement that producers be part of the New Mexico Grown Approved Supplier Program. Purchased food, such as meat, beans, chile and fresh produce, will be delivered to food banks, as well as directly to hunger relief partners, such as emergency food pantries and soup kitchens, throughout New Mexico. The goal is simple: to connect hunger relief partners — and the communities they serve — directly with nutritious food from local producers.

Accessible local food is made possible by policy and found support in this year’s legislative session. The Healthy Universal School Meals measure includes increased access to local foods, and, in addition, senior centers and early childhood learning centers will receive funding to purchase local foods. On a larger scale, the Farm Bill, the omnibus federal bill passed every five years that sets agriculture and nutrition policy, is due to be renewed this year.

With a budget of $428 billion in 2018, this bill funds food assistance programs, most notably SNAP, as well as programs like the Regional Farm to Food Bank program. There is hope that accessible local food programs will be bolstered further by this bill.

Food banks and farmers markets, as well as many other community organizations, are central to keeping us healthy and connected. If you or someone you know has questions about Double Up Food Bucks or food distributions in your area, call 211 or reach out to The Food Depot or CONNECT, a city-county program to help individuals access services and programs. To learn more about the food bucks, visit doubleupnm.org, and about the Regional Farm to Food Bank program, visit nmfoodbanks.org.

Brooke Minnich is agency partnerships coordinator at The Food Depot and member of The Food Depot’s Advocacy Committee.

https://www.santafenewmexican.com/opinion/my_view/local-food-a-tool-to-reduce-food-insecurity/article_8364db9a-da1e-11ed-9c48-af7ea2d3a12a.html


Regional Farm to Food Bank Program Launches

March 2, 2023

Agriculture producers encouraged to apply to the Regional Farm to Food Bank Program
Feeding the community can grow agricultural businesses

Feeding the community can grow agricultural businesses


LAS CRUCES, N.M. – One in eight New Mexicans experience food insecurity on a daily basis. In an effort to reduce this statistic, the New Mexico Department of Agriculture, the New Mexico Association of Food Banks, The Food Depot and the New Mexico Farmers’ Marketing Association have initiated the Regional Farm to Food Bank Program. This program allows local ranchers, farmers and other food suppliers to receive fair market prices for their products while feeding those in need.

The Regional Farm to Food Bank Program is a result of Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s prioritization of food security investments that bolster New Mexico agriculture. Led by the New Mexico Association of Food Banks, the program uses funds from the United States Department of Agriculture to purchase locally-produced foods to help feed those in need. The program strengthens local food systems by offering fair market prices to farmers, ranchers and other food suppliers, while ensuring that New Mexicans who experience food insecurity can access healthy and fresh foods.

“We encourage producers across the state to apply to participate in this program,” said New Mexico Secretary of Agriculture Jeff Witte. “This program will not only give producers a market price for their products, but it will help New Mexicans in need.”

The New Mexico Department of Agriculture, the New Mexico Association of Food Banks, The Food Depot and the New Mexico Farmers’ Marketing Association have initiated the Regional Farm to Food Bank Program. This program allows local ranchers and farmers to receive fair market prices for their products while feeding those in need. Once food has been delivered to the food banks, personnel and volunteers get to work sorting and packaging the food products to the 33 counties across New Mexico. (Photo courtesy of New Mexico Farmers’ Marketing Association)

There is no producer that is too small to apply for this program. To participate in the Regional Farm to Food Bank program, producers must be a part of the New Mexico Grown Approved Supplier Program. The Approved Supplier Program allows New Mexico producers to sell to schools, food banks and other institutions by ensuring their products are safe, traceable and use quality assurance practices.

The Approved Supplier Program is managed by the New Mexico Farmers’ Marketing Association on behalf of the state of New Mexico. The Farmers’ Marketing Association has worked to strengthen the local food systems by supporting New Mexico agriculture producers and cultivating strong networks for a healthier New Mexico. The association has served as an access point for producers to sell through New Mexico Grown to state agencies and now to food banks.

“New Mexico Farmers’ Marketing Association works with approximately 1,000 farmers, ranchers and other food suppliers each year, connecting them to local market opportunities across the state, including through sales at farmers’ markets, in grocery stores, to schools and preschools and to senior centers, among other outlets,” said Bryan Crawford-Garrett, Director of Food Systems Initiatives. “The new Regional Farm to Food Bank project provides an incredible new market opportunity for local producers that will provide food bank customers with healthy, local food. It’s truly a win-win program that will strengthen the local agricultural economy in New Mexico, while simultaneously helping to address food insecurity.”

There are five regional food bank headquarters: Roadrunner Food Bank (Albuquerque and Las Cruces), The Food Depot (Santa Fe), Food Bank of Eastern New Mexico (Clovis), Community Pantry (Gallup) and Echo Food Bank (Farmington). Within these five headquarters, New Mexico Association of Food Banks distributed 48,375,536 pounds of food in 2022.

The New Mexico Department of Agriculture, the New Mexico Association of Food Banks, The Food Depot and the New Mexico Farmers’ Marketing Association have initiated the Regional Farm to Food Bank Program. This program allows local ranchers and farmers to receive fair market prices for their products while feeding those in need. These four agencies have worked to strengthen the local food systems by supporting New Mexico agriculture producers and cultivating strong networks for a healthier New Mexico (Photo courtesy of New Mexico Farmers’ Marketing Association)

Once food has been delivered to these food banks, personnel and volunteers get to work sorting and packaging the food products to the 33 counties across New Mexico. Food is then supplied to free food programs, such as food pantries, schools and community centers. Hunger relief is then provided to tens of thousands of New Mexicans each week.

“New Mexico food banks are excited to work with our partners, New Mexico Grown, New Mexico Department of Agriculture and New Mexico Farmers’ Marketing Association on the development of the Regional Farm to Food Bank program,” said Sherry Hooper, New Mexico Association of Food Banks Chairperson. “To address food insecurity, New Mexico food banks provided enough food for more than 40 million meals in 2022. The food banks are challenged in accessing enough food to meet the growing demand for emergency food assistance. They are eager to begin receiving New Mexico-produced food for their hunger-relief efforts.”
Historically, 46% of distributed food from the New Mexico Association of Food Banks has been fruits and vegetables, while 13% has been protein content. The program is hoping to expand to make the program more enticing for animal producers to get more protein added to the food banks’ acquisitions.

https://nmdeptag.nmsu.edu/new-release/2023/agriculture-producers-encouraged-to-apply-to-the-regional-farm-to-food-bank-program.html


The Food Depot takes a laudable leap of faith

By Phill Casaus pcasaus@sfnewmexican.com
Mar 26, 2022 Updated May 1, 2023

One of the gutsier moves around Santa Fe in the past several months took place at The Food Depot, which for years has been fighting to stave off hunger in Northern New Mexico with persistence, pluck and a near-maniacal devotion to mission.

No one can argue the organization is unsuccessful: It distributed 10.5 million pounds of food in 2021, averaging about 737,627 meals each month. In a part of the world wracked by poverty and pandemic, it answered the call throughout the crisis. People worked through vacations and days off; badly needed if not life-giving food deliveries were made on weekends. Sacrifices, big and small, were real.

“I’m so proud of us and our staff,” said Food Depot Deputy Director Jill Dixon, assessing the past two years. “The Food Depot came and stood up for the community. And I stand by that. But it doesn’t mean we can’t do it better.”

And so, with those words echoing every day, comes a very large and daunting next step. With plenty of introspection and little fanfare, The Food Depot basically tore up its old model of operation and said, more or less: Let’s really aim big.

In the coming months and years, The Food Depot — its fiscal year ’22 budget is $8.1 million — plans to change how it operates, transforming from an organization that largely provided “indirect service” to one that aggressively and strategically seeks out hunger in a hands-on way with better-aimed efforts.

In short, The Food Depot is not merely going to deliver food, Dixon said. It’s going to seek more information from its clients about what the “right” food is and creatively figure out ways to make sure those offerings get into the right hands at the right time.

Coming in July, to Española: the launch of a free grocery store concept that will have items hungry people can select as if they were going to Smith’s or Albertsons. That doesn’t mean Casita de Comida will have the selection a regular store would provide, but it will offer more options and opportunities to those who need them. The pilot, assuming it’s successful, could roll out at a later date to other cities as well, including Santa Fe, Las Vegas, N.M., and Raton.

Coming in 2023: a contraption known as Foodmobile Dos, the next generation of the depot’s Big Blue Bus that delivered food to hungry communities in the area. The bus is nice, Dixon says, but the next iteration is a custom-ordered semi-trailer, with 900 square feet of interior space that can serve 250 households as soon as it pulls into a parking lot, or in the case of a lot of Northern New Mexico locales, dirt road.

Under a new strategic plan, approved by The Food Depot’s board of directors, the new way of doing business is extensive and more involved than just those two examples, Dixon said. But it’s indicative of the changes — both in thought and action — wrought by the pandemic.

Dixon said the first signs that change would be coming arrived when many of The Food Depot’s partners — often, nonprofits that relied on older volunteers to take Food Depot offerings and get them to clients — could not actually deliver the food due to the health risks.

“We ran into the ‘How is food going to get to Mora County this month?’ thing,” Dixon recounted. “If the one person who executes it gets COVID, what do you do?”

But there were other signs as well. One came home to Dixon as she spoke with an elderly woman about a food distribution during the pandemic. The woman was grateful and thankful because she, like all too many in this country, didn’t have another option. But the apples Dixon provided? She couldn’t eat them because of the state of her teeth.

“It makes you take a step back,” Dixon said. “We had done so much in terms of logistics … we’d loaded thousands of pounds of food. But never for a second did I think: Is this food right for the people we’re serving?”

Going forward, she said, The Food Depot plans to talk with its food recipients, hear them out, about the food they need, not just the food they get. Simple questions, such as, “If you could choose 10 items, what would they be?” could help the organization make better choices on where, when and how to help. And with the difficulties faced by nonprofits during the pandemic, The Food Depot may have to lead the charge on hunger, not just be the armory.

Northern New Mexico’s food bank is not the first in the country to give this new reality a whirl; the ideas have been tried outside the state. But in a place where hurdles are high and real, the thought that The Food Depot would eschew safety for ambition is laudable. Not everyone would try it.

“Our discomfort,” Dixon replies, “is in the best interest of people who are trusting us.”

Phill Casaus is editor of The New Mexican

 

https://www.santafenewmexican.com/opinion/local_columns/the-food-depot-takes-a-laudable-leap-of-faith/article_dce17f72-abba-11ec-8c71-6f675d6d6d43.html