Photo and article by Mary Alice Murphy
With no public input at the Grant County Commission special meeting on Aug. 22, 2023, Dave Chandler, director of The Commons and Jay Brady, Commons pantry manager, gave an update on what their organization does and has been doing.
“Thank you for your support for the Gila food pantry,” Chandler said. “I’ll be giving you some statistics.”
He noted that the Casey Foundation develops stats for economic development, education, health and family for each state.
“New Mexico is at the bottom overall,” Chandler said. “The state ranks 50th in the country. I know you are aware of children going hungry. In New Mexico, it’s 20 percent to 40 percent of the children going hungry. Forty percent of residents in Grant County are having food issues. We have about 11,000 households in the county. We try to meet immediate needs, and we’re also trying to impact the issue. We hold six food pantries in the county every month and serve about 800 households each month, giving out about 750,000 pounds of food per year, and 800,000 meals. We give out 20 to 25 emergency food boxes each month for about 450 a year. Our Commons Farmstead hands out about 25,000 pounds of produce a year.”
He talked about other programs that are building community resilience, including school gardens and school farmstands. “We also provide vouchers for families who don’t want the stigma of showing up at school pantries. In our youth programs, we have the Grant County Youth Leadership Program, and during the summer an 8-week program with 10 Youth Corps members 14-to-18-years-old. the Community Betterment Project helps with job readiness training and soft skills training.”
Chandler said a virtual Volunteer Center will launch later this year. It will be a one-stop platform for non-profit resources. “The platform is used across the country. We will reach out to non-profits to get on the platform. It will also be good for emergencies and the need for volunteers. For instance, we might send out the message: ‘Join us in Gough Park to fill sandbags.’ We will be able to mobilize people for a specific purposes. We will also help with training for volunteers. This program holds great promise for the community.”
District 1 Commissioner and Chair Chris Ponce said he is interested in what the group is doing in the schools.
“We used to do the backpack program for weekends,” Chandler said. “We found, although it was popular that it wasn’t as effective, and a lot of the sugary foods got expensive. We realized that for $4 over the weekend, we needed individual meals, which would be more effective. The family food boxes in the school pantries and the farmstands are very effective. People can pick and choose what they want. Soon we will be in every school. They are more staff intensive and expensive, but more effective.”
Chandler said Brady would talk about the increasing demand, which has doubled over the past 18 months. “He will also talk about seniors.”
Brady said he has been around food justice since the 1980s. “The Commons is a passionate organization. I found it surprising and concerning how many seniors come to us. We do about 50 delivery routes a month for the homebound or disabled.”
He noted the Commons has already served 216 more this year. “Forty percent of the county population is over 60 years old. We served 39 in May, 38 in June and 37 in July. There is a nuance when dealing with seniors.”
Brady said the Commons gets commodities from Roadrunner Food Services out of Albuquerque. “They include adult diapers. We need more for seniors than for babies overall. The population of seniors is growing. If we are serving some, they may be seniors next year. We are extraordinarily reliant on volunteers, many of whom are seniors. We are trying to get more produce, but it’s more expensive. I see it as all of us sitting at the table. People have a right not to be hungry. We need to share.”
Ponce asked if they have greenhouses at the schools, where they could grow year-round produce.
District 3 Commissioner Alicia Edwards said the organization is doing more to expand the year-round gardens with irrigation in the summer. “We have a big partner in the Farm Bureau. They have done a garden at Cliff, one at Calvary School and one at San Lorenzo Elementary.”
Chandler thanked the commissioners for letting the food pantry in Gila use the county building. “We are the largest community food distributor. We run a budget of more than $300,000 and rely heavily on donations, with the rest grant funded. The community has stepped up to say: ‘We don’t want people to go hungry.’ I am not making a county request, but we are getting maxed out. We may have to ask for more than donations and grants. If we run out of money, we can’t provide food to the schools. We hope we can partner with you in the future.”
The next item on the agenda addressed a request from Sheriff Raul Villanueva to recognize a staff member in partnership with the representative of Homeland Security Investigations.
Alec Gonzales of HSI presented the award to Grant County Investigator Lt. Jason Jordan who, in partnership with HSI, completed “a pretty long investigation involving a sexual predator.” Gonzales said it involved a juvenile female who was groomed and sexually assaulted over the years. The investigation involved the rescue of the victim and the arrest of the child predator. Jordan received the 2022 SAC HSI El Paso Exploitation Case of the Year. “This is a big deal, an annual award,” Gonzales said.
Villaneuva said he appreciated having a staff member receive the award, as the department collaborates with HSI to address issues like this one.
Ponce expressed his congratulations to Jordan.
The next article will get into the only agreement on the agenda.