Before 9 a.m., Wednesday through Saturday, there is a line that snakes around a building at the corner of Broadway Boulevard and Central Avenue. People in need of food come with blankets and thick coats to The Storehouse, arriving as early as 6 a.m.
For people who know about New Mexico’s food problems, this is no surprise. New Mexico is the second hungriest state in the nation, and the rest in the nation for child hunger, according to a report published by Feeding America in 2011.
That year, New Mexico needed more than $168 million to meet the needs of people experiencing food insecurity — those who have trouble accessing food for three meals a day, every day. That needed money affects people such as Aaron Aguilar, a former UNM student living in Albuquerque.
Aguilar said he has been food insecure since he was a child. There was always food, but the amount was scarce, and never enough to feed everyone in the single-parent household of three.
People in need of food line up to enter The Storehouse on Wednesday morning. The Storehouse provides free food and clothing from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. every Wednesday through Saturday.
Volunteer Daniel Lyle prepares bags of potatoes at Roadrunner Food Bank for delivery. Everyone is welcome to volunteer at Roadrunner Food Bank as it depends on volunteers to help distribute food around the community.
“It was pretty sparse and I was hungry a lot,” he said. “My mom did without quite a bit.” As an adult, Aguilar said his situation is not much better. He works part time at a local restaurant
and as a musician. But while there has been no shortage of work, Aguilar said he has to choose between paying bills and buying food almost every month.
“Food prices have gone up, and it’s really hard to make a living wage at any kind of menial job,” he said. “I spend a lot of time and energy on dealing with the problem of keeping food stocked.”
Annually, New Mexicans miss about 68 million meals and about 200,000 of those missing meals are kids, said Sonya Warwick, communications officer for Roadrunner Food Bank. “It’s very tough in New Mexico,” she said. “We have sites that, four years ago, were serving 30 families and now are serving 500 families. It’s incredible.”
Other organizations are feeling the pressure as well. The Storehouse — the largest food pantry in Roadrunner’s network — serves more than 80,000 people in Albuquerque with only eight paid staff members, said Niña Johnson, CEO of the Storehouse.
“We are at about 30 percent higher capacity right now than we were when I started seven months ago,” she said. “Our peak was 508(people) in one day, which means we had a line down the street and around the corner.”
Aguilar said he knows how taxed the food banks are, and sometimes resorts to stealing food from grocery stores rather than take food that could be used to feed children.
“Not eating has really serious consequences,” he said. “The people who take advantage of food banks need it more than I do. There are a lot of people who don’t even have homes or have children and in terms of my personal ethics, I don’t have a problem stealing from a large corporation.”
Despite a dire situation, organizations fighting to end hunger are doing the best they can, Johnson said. Both Roadrunner Food Bank and the Storehouse are improving their operations to salvage more food and more e ciently distribute meals.
The Storehouse picks up food from local Albertson’s grocery stores daily, and is able to redistribute it quickly, she said.
Organizers at Roadrunner Food Bank have also improved operations in order to serve more people, said Warwick. The food bank was able to salvage more food last summer, a time when people are not in the giving spirit of the holidays and children who normally rely on free and reduced-price lunches are out of school, she said.
However, food pantries only offer a temporary solution for an ongoing symptom of a larger problem, Warwick said.
“Until we can get higher-paying jobs here and more educational opportunities, it’s going to be tough. In the meantime (people) have places they can go to for help, and we’re glad to provide that service, but we can only do it with the support of the community,” she said.
Another effort to fight New Mexico’s hunger problem is a bill introduced to the state legislature by Rep. David M. Gallegos (R Eunice). House Joint Memorial 6 is a request for public school cafeterias to donate leftover meals to those in need. According to the bill, food insecurity is on the rise in New Mexico, with 75 percent of food pantries in the state reporting an increase of clients.
Recent legislation on a national scale has attempted to cut federal aid for those experiencing food insecurity, Warwick said. If approved, these cuts would put even more pressure on already strained organizations, she said.
Last year, both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives proposed their version of the Farm Bill, legislation that is normally passed about every five years that seeks to govern agriculture and food aid policies in the United States, according to an article in the New York Times last summer.
The House’s proposed Farm Bill cut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program by $20 billion, but was rejected by the Senate in June, according to the article. The Senate’s proposed Farm Bill, which is currently still on the table, cuts SNAP by $4 billion.
Aguilar said he receives $189 a month, the maximum SNAP benefits for a single person without kids, but this often does not last through the month because he tries to eat fresh fruits and vegetables often, and stay away from cheaper, but less healthy foods.
Johnson said there are long-term solutions, but that on day-to-day basis, it is important for organizations like the Storehouse to provide emergency support for the hungry.
“In the long term, it’s about education, jobs, and all those things that people want to help with the issue of poverty in the state. But I see people every day who haven’t eaten for days, so
for me it’s a very immediate problem,” she said.
Emergency Food Support
Road Runner Food Bank: 349-8841 or toll free 866-327-0267,
rrfb.org, 5840 Office Blvd. NE
The Storehouse: 842-6491, thestorehouseabq.org, 106 Broadway Blvd. SE
East Central Ministries: 266-3590, eastcentralministries.org, 123 Vermont St. NE
NM SNAP: 888-473-3676, snap-help.com
NM WIC: 866-867-3124, nmwic.org