The holiday season inspires more people to give to the hungry — but food banks and shelters in New Mexico have seen a rise in need and a decline in donations overall this year.
According to the New Mexico Association of Food Banks' most recent Hunger Study conducted in 2010, 13 percent of meals consumed by low-income families are "missing." These missing meals represent the amount of meals poverty-stricken New Mexicans go without. According to Stephanie Miller, the Director of Development for Albuquerque's Roadrunner Food Bank, need is always present and not just during the holidays.
"We have seen that 40,000 people a week seek help from us directly or from partners we are supplying. We know 40 percent of those people are children, 13 percent are seniors, and most are members of a family. Donations increase substantially over the holidays, but these people need to eat every day, not just on Thanksgiving," Miller said.
Although there are several food banks and shelters throughout the state, Roadrunner Food Bank is the largest supplier overall. The food bank serves 16 counties in New Mexico and continues to expand to meet the growing need of the state's citizens. "We are running out of food more frequently and the need is greater. The need for food is rising because the poverty level is rising and more people need help getting meals," Miller said.
The decline of the country's economy has led to this increased level of poverty in New Mexico and in several other states as well. More people are losing jobs or unable to find jobs, and they are turning to others for help. "We can take as many as 300 each night, about 10,000 meals a month at Joy Junction. As the economy goes down, donations go down and need goes up. We hope donations go back up throughout the year in general, but people are more interested in giving during the holidays," said Dr. Jeremy Reynalds, founder and CEO of Joy Junction. Joy Junction is the state's largest homeless shelter, caring for entire families each day.
As need is on the rise and people are donating less to ensure their own financial security, volunteers at these food banks and shelters are just as important as the donations coming in, according to both Miller and Reynalds. Adriana Cardenas, a student at Sandia High School, volunteered at Presbyterian Baptist Church on Thanksgiving this year, and she said the experience changed her life. "It changed me because it just shows how we take things for granted and the things we use. There's people out there that don't have anything. They don't have a pillow to sleep on or a bed to sleep on and we do, and they're out there on the street," Cardenas said.
Whether it is through volunteering or donating, the organizations agree that every little bit helps. "Even free food has a cost, honestly. But for every dollar donation, we can buy $9 worth of food. We are distributing 26 million pounds of food a year, and we can still distribute more. It would find a place because there is still a gap," Miller said.