New face of hunger in New Mexico

Food banks need resources to meet this need

By Gerry Fairbrother and Tracey Enright
Posted 6/18/20

There's a new face of hunger in New Mexico.

Individuals who have never before needed to rely on the government safety net, food pantries or soup kitchens are now regularly appearing at food distribution events.

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New face of hunger in New Mexico

Food banks need resources to meet this need

Posted

There's a new face of hunger in New Mexico.

Individuals who have never before needed to rely on the government safety net, food pantries or soup kitchens are now regularly appearing at food distribution events.

Last week in Ohkay Owingeh, Jill Dixon from The Food Depot [based in Santa Fe] registered a woman who was in line to receive a box of groceries. Tears were streaming down her face as she stammered her answers to the questions. Finally, she stopped and said, "I'm sorry, it's just ... I've never done this before."

Twenty cars later, another woman, her 10-year-old child in the passenger seat said, "Two adults, three kids ... yes, my husband and I, we are both unemployed now, I didn't know what else to do. Is it OK that I am here?"

Later that afternoon, in Santa Fe, another woman came to The Food Depot looking for help. "I heard there was food here, fresh produce. I've run out of all my canned goods now, and my stimulus check is gone. I thought I'd wait and see if I could make it. I can't."

These are folks who were previously working, but their jobs have now disappeared. They have exhausted their savings and the stimulus check. Unfortunately, the end is not yet in sight.

As hunger increases across a recently locked-down nation, the poor are hardest hit - as usual. Many New Mexicans laid off from work don't have the next month's rent or enough food, even for this month.

And what is true in New Mexico is also true for the nation. By the end of April, more than two out of five households with young children were "food insecure," according to a report by the Brookings Institution.

What does "food insecurity" mean? This is a sterile, sanitized policy phrase, and one that can lead to minimizing the problem. But this would be a mistake. Numbers around "food insecurity" come from surveys using validated questions taken from the USDA's food security questionnaire.

People are deemed "food insecure" if they said it was "often" or "sometimes" the case that:

"The food we bought just didn't last and we didn't have enough money to get more" and "The children in my household were not eating enough because we just couldn't afford enough food."

So, families that policy people call "food insecure" are ones whose children sit in front of empty plates with growling stomachs. A friend told us about a young child who had stomach pains from hunger. That child wrapped a belt tightly around his waist to create a pain that might - just might - cover the pain of hunger.

This is the face of "food insecurity."

These families then turn to food banks. In typical times, The Food Depot provides 528,000 pounds of food each month to a network of nonprofit hunger-relief partners and to people through direct service programs.

These are not typical times.

In April, The Food Depot distributed over 1 million pounds of food, enough for 836,635 meals - almost twice the amount as in typical times - through a network of nonprofit hunger-relief partners and to people through direct service programs. The Food Depot is proud of being able to supply high-quality, nutritious food to its clients. Of that 1 million pounds of food, 53 percent was fresh produce and 16 percent was protein items.

The pandemic is likely to go on for a long time. Food banks will require additional funds to keep providing to hungry people. Private citizens have stepped up to volunteer their time and donate money, but more is needed. Food banks will need financial resources from the state.

We urge you to contact your state senators and representatives to ask them to support current and proposed programs that preserve or expand hunger relief services in our state. Programs such as SNAP and WIC, as well as those of the five food banks in New Mexico are in dire need of support as they continue to support people in our communities.

Gerry Fairbrother and Tracey Enright are members of The Food Depot's Food and Nutrition Advocacy Committee. Fairbrother is also a member of RESULTS Santa Fe and Health Action NM.

hunger, New Mexico

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