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Super effort puts food on the table for many in NM

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — She tells me the story of a grandmother raising six grandchildren on next to nothing when COVID-19 intruded and turned her already dire situation to devastating.

She had little food to feed her brood.

She needed help.

“That’s what we do,” Marci Dickerson said. “We help.”

Volunteers set up a distribution site Wednesday for food boxes provided by the USDA Farmers to Families Food Box Program in Las Cruces. The program began during the COVID-19 pandemic and is now in its fifth round of distribution across the country. (Courtesy of Marci Dickerson)

Dickerson and the volunteers of Revolution 120, a Las Cruces-based nonprofit she founded with fellow business people and activists in 2017, have been doing what they can to help people like that grandmother who live in their city and in the small, rural towns and colonias along the southern swath of New Mexico.

Here, unemployment and food insecurity have worsened because of COVID-19 and the effects on the region’s agricultural economy. Many folks who toil in the fields to put food on our tables can barely afford to put food on their own tables.

“The farming industry has been especially hard hit because of the closure of restaurants and schools,” said Dickerson, who owns The Game and The Game Extra Innings restaurants in Las Cruces. “Early on, you may remember that some dairy farmers were dumping milk because there was just no market for it.”

A volunteer hauls dozens of food boxes to distribute Wednesday in Las Cruces. The boxes contain two kinds of meat, sour cream, cheese, milk, fruits and vegetables purchased from farms and ranches by the government.

More help, though, is on the way with a fifth round of fresh dairy, meat and produce that will be distributed this month beginning this week through the United States Department of Agriculture’s Farmers to Families Food Box Program.

“This program was set up to help farmers sell their goods during COVID and feed people who have lost jobs, etc.,” Dickerson said. “It’s a great program.”

The program is especially unique in that it doesn’t rely on basic nonperishable staples but instead provides fresh items, including two kinds of meat, sour cream, cheese, milk, fruits and vegetables. Dickerson said southern New Mexico is set to receive 36,400 boxes over the next four weeks. This Saturday, for example, boxes will be handed out in Anthony, Mesquite and La Mesa.

Overall, New Mexico will distribute a total of 88,607 boxes, a bulk of them through Roadrunner Food Bank in Albuquerque – the state’s largest food relief agency – and its agency networks that service 16 counties across the state.

“We distribute a variety of food from a variety of sources,” Roadrunner communications officer Sonya Warwick said. “This program gets melded in with the rest of our available food inventory.”

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Farmers to Families has distributed more than 133 million food boxes. Funding for the fifth round of the program was included in the COVID-19 relief package passed Dec. 21.

The USDA is not the only entity providing food from farms to the hungry. The Farm to Food Bank project, run by American Friends Service Committee in Albuquerque, buys food from local farmers and gives it to food banks across the state.

“We purchase fresh, organic produce from 28 sustainable farms and distribute that to Roadrunner Food Bank as well as five shelters and food pantries that serve people who are homeless, domestic violence survivors, seniors and immigrants,” said Sayrah Namaste, program director. “We also supply farmers with seeds and other farming materials as well as safety items like face masks and gloves. In return, farms are providing a portion of the food they grow to local relief agencies. The result? Farms are staying operational and people in need are getting access to fresh, healthy food.”

The need is continuous. Across New Mexico, one in seven people struggle with hunger, according to Feeding America, a hunger relief organization. Among children, it’s one in four.

Dickerson’s Revolution 120, she explains, revolutionizes how a charity works because everyone involved is a volunteer, which allows every penny raised to go to help those in need.

That’s the 100% in the 100. The 20 comes from what is asked of those who benefit from the charity.

“We ask everyone we help to pay it forward,” she said. “That gives our help a greater impact and creates a culture of serving others in our community.”

In these devastating pandemic times, the 20% requirement is often waived. That, Dickerson said, didn’t stop that grandmother with next to nothing from paying it forward.

“Despite how hard she is struggling, she still took some of the items from her food box and made enough beans and tortillas to feed her neighbors,” she said. “That’s the spirit of giving that’s alive in our communities.”

People need to eat. Farmers need to produce. And you, dear readers, just might find a need to keep paying it forward as much or as little as you are able.

UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Reach Joline at 730-2793, jkrueger@abqjournal.com, Facebook or @jolinegkg on Twitter.

 

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