Smaller portions, fewer fresh vegetables and a greater reliance on canned goods are some of the hard decisions local food banks are making in the fallout of COVID-19.
The Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, one of the first emergency programs in response to the pandemic, dedicated $19 billion initially to farmers, ranchers and consumers to keep food supply chains moving. It was critical.
Food pantries, eligible for the federal aid, performed a remarkable public service throughout the pandemic, shouldering far more than their share of the responsibility to make food available to all Americans, especially as government offices shuttered and government phone lines were slammed.
The lines at Roadrunner Food Bank’s site at University Stadium started forming at 3 a.m. on Nov. 24, 2020. Two days before Thanksgiving, Roadrunner helped around 1,500 families, the largest distribution in its history. New Mexicans waited in line for hours again at Expo New Mexico on Dec. 1, 2020, just to get a couple boxes of edibles from Roadrunner in advance of Christmas. Food demand had gone “through the roof,” said Ari Herring, co-executive director of Rio Grande Food Project.
Now, the federal aid has run out, and donations have dwindled. Those responsible for one of the greatest food mobilization and distribution efforts since the Great Depression are now in need of our help.
National supply shortages and soaring food prices are taking their toll. Roadrunner Food Bank spokeswoman Sonya Warwick says her organization, which serves as one of the state’s core food banks, has seen a “significant” decrease in food donations. With less “food rescue” from farmers, food distributors and manufacturers, grocery stores and even local growers and farms, the result is fewer nutrient-dense foods.
At the same time, the need remains as great as ever as too many New Mexicans — including children — don’t know where their next meal is coming from.
First Unitarian Church of Albuquerque is having to purchase more food to meet the demands of its weekly drive-thru/walk-thru distribution days.
And the Rio Grande Food Project has had to provide smaller portions to maintain its thrice-weekly distributions and can “still only provide about half of what we used to provide our guests each visit than we could pre-pandemic,” said Kayla Strickler, also a co-executive director of Rio Grande Food Project.
Because they deal in such bulk, a single dollar can go a long way for a food bank, especially if it’s a buck from everyone in a group. What group do you belong to that might be willing to give a few bucks?
And volunteers are always needed. What better public service project for a group of teenagers than a food bank? Roadrunner, which serves central and southern New Mexico, has enough organizing and prep work for an army of volunteers.
Roadrunner is also seeking partnerships with groups to fill in food pantry gaps in the South Valley, the International District and in Lea, Otero and Sandoval counties. Any group interested in partnering with Roadrunner can visit www.rrfb.org/become-a-member.
A lot may be out of our hands, but restocking our food banks — especially with fresh fruit and vegetables — is one thing that is definitely within our grasp. Through a concerted effort we can help food banks perform their essential mission of getting more food on more tables.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.