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A heaping helping of hope

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

Convoy of Hope volunteer Gladys Aragon, right, joins a line of other volunteers carrying bags of groceries for those in need at the Albuquerque Convention Center on Saturday. Around 80,000 pounds of groceries were donated. (Marla Brose/Journal)

Thousands of Albuquerqueans in need were treated to a heaping helping of hope on Saturday at one of the largest charity giveaway events in the city’s history.

Convoy of Hope enlisted the help of 1,600 volunteers from 100 organizations to provide services, information and goods, including 80,000 pounds of groceries at the Albuquerque Convention Center and over 10,000 meals from Chick-Fil-A and Albuquerque Public Schools, event co-chair Jason Dickenson said.

All told, the goods and services donated totaled over $1 million.

The event was open to everyone and no proof of income or need was required; 5,062 people showed up.

Those are some staggering figures, but every person and family waiting in line had stories and needs all their own.

The event went beyond providing the basics; in addition to free meals and groceries, there were free health screenings and tests, children’s shoes, fresh-cut flowers, a family portrait studio and haircuts.

Dickenson said the latter three were among the most popular offerings, as witnessed by the perpetually long lines at each station.

Among those waiting for photos were families with young children who hadn’t been able to afford a family portrait.

For others, it had simply been a long time since they’d had a nice photo of themselves taken.

“Oh my God, maybe when I graduated high school?” said Bee Casaus. “I just turned 60, so that was many, many years ago.”

Casaus said she struggled with a meth addiction and homelessness in the past, exacerbated when her daughter was killed in a car accident six years ago.

Now, she’s living clean and has found a place to call home.

“I think it’ll be nice to have a photo of myself,” she said. “My daughter would be proud of that.”

Next in line for a photo was 53-year-old Richard Martinez, who was planning on giving his portrait to his grandkids.

Stevie Simplicio hugs her son Brandon Deleon, 6, as she waits in line for free haircuts with Carlos Morales and her other young son, Ricardo. Simplicio said she was most interested in the free haircuts, shoes and groceries being offered at the event. (Marla Brose/ Journal)

Martinez learned about the event through New Beginnings Church, which he credited with keeping him on the straight and narrow since his release from prison four years ago.

“It’s amazing to see how the community has come together,” he said.

Some of the hundreds of volunteers themselves had stories like those of Casaus and Martinez and were using the event as an opportunity to give back.

Valentino Pacheco, pastor of Restoration Church, was leading a team in “Connections Corner,” where a group of volunteers were available to pray with guests as they left the event.

“I’m giving back to the community because I was once like that. I was homeless, I was on drugs and God changed my life,” Pacheco said. “It’s awesome when somebody like me who has been in that situation can be an encouragement.”

Lt. Gov. John Sanchez, an Albuquerque native, addressed the crowds around noon, saying that he was especially impressed by the children’s shoes being given away.

“As a young kid … the youngest of eight, no dad, raised in poverty here in Albuquerque, I didn’t have shoes,” Sanchez said. “It harkened back to when I was a young kid and people were willing to help. That’s what we’re doing today.”

Eustacio Joseph Griego of Albuquerque carries his dog, KiMo, as he chats with volunteers giving away seeds for gardening at Convoy of Hope on Saturday. Griego said he was at the event in search of “some shoes for my mother, some food and a prater for a woman on a bus.” (Marla Brose/Journal)