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Grant to help provide 300,000 meals

Hilda Vallegas, a food pantry volunteer and parent of a child at East San Jose Elementary School, picks up a bag of apples for her family during a mobile food pantry distribution at the school organized by Roadrunner Food Bank. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Hilda Vallegas, a food pantry volunteer and parent of a child at East San Jose Elementary School, picks up a bag of apples for her family during a mobile food pantry distribution at the school organized by Roadrunner Food Bank. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A $60,000 grant from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of New Mexico to Roadrunner Food Bank will help provide 300,000 meals to children and seniors throughout New Mexico.

The check was presented during a news conference Tuesday at East San Jose Elementary School near Gibson and Broadway SE. The funds will provide mobile food pantries at eight schools around the state and two senior centers.

The event coincided with the delivery of 5,500 pounds of food to the mobile pantry at East San Jose Elementary, where about 100 families line up once a month to receive supplemental produce, dairy, meats, bread and nonperishable food items.

“In New Mexico, one in three children and one in five adults experiences hunger issues,” said Kurt Shipley, president of Blue Cross Blue Shield New Mexico. The health insurance company “understands that when somebody is hungry and not able to eat, that they are not able to be active and therefore not able to be healthy.”

The Blue Cross Blue Shield “Healthy Kids, Healthy Families” initiative is focused on “raising the level of physical activity, improving immunization rates, better managing chronic conditions and promoting safe environments for kids,” Shipley said.

As part of the food distribution initiative, the Blue Cross Blue Shield Care Van will be made available to provide health screenings, health literature and immunizations.

The $60,000 grant was the largest thus far given to Roadrunner from Blue Cross Blue Shield, Shipley said, noting that the company has been involved in other projects with the food pantry, and over the past year has given more than $1 million dollars to organizations around the state through “Healthy Kids, Healthy Families.”

The Hunger in America report for New Mexico released last fall shows that 70,000 people are receiving food from Roadrunner Food Bank and its network of partners, said Roadrunner president and CEO Melody Wattenbarger.

Nearly 60 percent of the people who are hungry in our state often have to make the choice between buying food or paying utility bills, medical bills or buying medicine, she said.

Jacqueline Saucedo, a volunteer and food recipient at the East San Jose pantry, has three children, two of them attending the school. Also living with her are her disabled parents and her husband, a seasonal construction worker.

“My expenses each month are too much,” she said. “I work part time as a baker but it’s not enough. Without the food pantry, I’d probably go crazy,” she said.

Another volunteer and parent with a child at the school is Hilda Villegas, who also has three older children in college. All of them live at home, as does the father of her children, who works as a cook.

“One income is not enough,” she said. “I run out of food at home about every other month. The pantry helps so we won’t go hungry.” The college kids in particular, she said, “eat a lot.”

Villegas is one of those parents who sometimes has to “make the choice between buying food and paying the utility bills,” she said. “It’s hard.”

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