The coronavirus pandemic has starved resources across the state, but many Albuquerque-based food banks and pantries are still doing everything they can to feed the increased demands.
Lisa Lindquist, director of the LoboRESPECT Advocacy Center at the University of New Mexico, said COVID-19 has made a significant impact on the food resources available to pantries and banks.
However, Lindquist said the Lobo Food Pantry continues to operate with just a few changes to adapt to the circumstances.
The Campus Lobo Food Pantry pick-up service has been active every Monday from 1:30-3:30 p.m. outside the University Advisement and Enrichment Center since the beginning of April. Anyone with a UNM student ID can drive up to the tent, and a volunteer will put a bag of non-perishable groceries in their trunk.
Because the campus-based Lobo Food Pantry has only been around since last fall, it’s difficult to determine how many students would use the pantry over the summer term without the virus. According to Lindquist, the number of students in Albuquerque is lower than normal due to the pandemic, but the individual need is now higher.
“Because there’s less traffic on campus, we’ve seen a decrease in the amount of students who are accessing the services, but I think we have enough folks who need that service that we made the decision to continue,” Lindquist said.
Margaret White, a case manager for the Dean of Students Office and Student Health and Counseling, is dedicated to helping students find whatever resources they might need. She points them toward food drives like the Campus Lobo Food Pantry as well as the Roadrunner Food Bank.
White said that the amount of students seeking food resources has been more numerous than last semester because so many people have lost their jobs.
“When people lost their jobs because they were working as servers when restaurants shut down, money and livelihood became a huge issue, and part of that is food,” White said.
In response to COVID-19, the Roadrunner Food Bank began running a food drive every Friday at the UNM South Lot. They recently moved the drive to Tuesdays from 8-10 a.m. in order to better collaborate with their donation partners.
During the first few weeks of the initial outbreak in New Mexico, a lot of people experienced food insecurity, causing panic buying to spread across the country, according to Roadrunner Food Bank communications specialist Kristen Kinzer.
Places like Roadrunner Food Bank often depend on “food rescue” with groceries that have passed their expiration date. But when stores went out of stock, the food banks received fewer donations as well.
While the demand for food drives is high, the number of volunteers has decreased, making it more challenging for food banks to operate safely. Kinzer said they aren’t currently low on food, but the impact of the virus has been a strain across the board — particularly in regard to volunteers.
“A lot of volunteers in Albuquerque tend to be seniors and retirees who have a little bit of extra time,” Kinzer said. “Since they tend to be high risk, we did lose a huge chunk of volunteers for the time being, so we had to work really hard to get new volunteers.”
Kinzer said they are always in need of food, funds and volunteers.
The Lobo Food Pantry and Roadrunner Food Bank have also taken measures to ensure the safety of both volunteers and clients.
Volunteers are required to wear a mask and gloves at all times and maintain a six-foot distance from each other. For the Roadrunner warehouse, Kinzer said they have been receiving between 120-180 volunteers each day, but they have room for more volunteers while still following social distance guidelines.
Because the Lobo Food Pantry is a smaller operation, Lindquist said they are only allowing up to five volunteers at a time for any shift to reduce any possible spread of the virus. She added that they are only taking volunteers from faculty colleagues for the time being.
Despite any setbacks food pantries and banks have experienced, they are staying consistent to their mission to help support the community in need.
“It’s a good thing — nobody should be embarrassed to try it,” White said. “Nobody in this country should not have enough to eat, so I’m glad it’s there and I hope people use it.”
Daniel Ward is a senior reporter at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @wordsofward34