By Meredith Hughes
It appears that hungry yet independent seniors, deprived by the horrific virus dubbed “ novel” of hanging out at their usual eateries, are lining up in their cars to partake of the meals programs Sandoval County makes possible.

A longtime staffer for the County’s Senior Services said “we are busier than ever before,” as the numbers continue to climb. “Cooking and serving cafeteria style is much easier than having to package or box everything up,” she said. “Our expenses definitely are up, and certain foods, including milk, are harder to source.”

Most of the food served up to seniors comes from Cisco and Shamrock, with some shelter-in-place seniors helped out by foodboxes from Roadrunner Food Bank, the New Mexico-wide organization comprised of multiple food partners.
The Corrales Senior Center continues to distribute meals prepared at the Meadowlark Senior Center in Rio Rancho, and the Sandoval County staffer said she was astounded when the number of meals requested in Corrales jumped from about 60-70 to 150 per day.

“Demand clearly has doubled.” Back in March, hot meals still were offered up daily. Now, heading into late April, the now drive thru arrangement gives out hot meals on Mondays and Wednesdays, with frozen meals for the other days tacked on. Centers suggest a $2 donation per meal, but no one is turned away for not paying. The Corrales center hands out meals from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Among those occasionally taking advantage of those drive-up, take home meals is Corrales Comment Editor Jeff Radford. “Carol Merrill and my son, Ben, do a great job of keeping me supplied with groceries and cooked meals, but occasionally the pantry and fridge are a little bare when I start thinking about lunch,” Radford said.

“It’s convenient to stop by the Senior Center on my way to the Post Office around noon. The portions are a bit meager, especially for someone trying to put on some weight… without ingesting too much carbs, which are not good for someone with diabetes.

“You won’t get fat on these meals, but you won’t starve either. Even so, I’d rather have a beef burrito with green chile at Perea’s,” Radford acknowledged.

The drive-up also provides an opportunity to see friends also waiting for their trays. “We don’t really talk to one another there, but we can at least wave.”

The center’s staff does not impose any means-testing, but date of birth is recorded to determine age eligibility. You can access the senior menu for April using the internet at http://www.sandovalcountynm.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/seniorcentermenu.pdf

“I really notice that these days we are getting calls from people who never needed us before. Now they do,” the staffer commented. In theory, you can call Senior Services Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 867-7535. In reality, any call to that number at any time of day or night will be forwarded to an individual’s cell phone, so that “anyone in the community can be helped.” Most county employees are working remotely, or under in-person restrictions.

The County employee said she was weary, after overseeing 645 meals served up in one and a half hours. “The drive-thru lines at Meadowlark were astonishing,” she said, “Cars and trucks jammed up in the parking lot, and leading to it.”

Demand for meals means the 400-450 plates prepared in Rio Rancho have jumped into the 700s, of which 150 currently are slated for Corrales.

Food shortages have not yet greatly impacted senior programs, but dollar shortages have. Donations are welcomed.

Food banks across the country are the logical recipients of the overflow of vegetables, milk and canned goods, that big ag/food no longer can deliver to its markets, nor reroute back to grocery stores. And these banks typically are designated as essential non-profits. Thanks to the ramifications of COVID-19, the food industry has lost its two primary customers, schools/universities and a range of businesses, including cruise lines, airlines and many, many more.

We likely all have seen images of piles of freshly-picked zucchini rotting in the Florida sun, and milk being poured into the dirt at dairy farms, while at the same time knowing of the multitudes of food-insecure people across this country.

The Seventh-Day Adventist Church on Academy Drive in Corrales has been operating its food pantry for those in need since 2008. It is open the third Wednesday of the month, at 3:30 p.m., back in 2017 the effort involved from eight to 12 volunteers, according to then pantry head Al Montes de Oca.

Roadrunner Foodbank was providing most all the food handed out then. Roadrunner and its 500 partners across New Mexico report they are operating normally, but have made some adjustments. As noted on its website, “A Coronavirus Planning Task Force, led by Roadrunner’s senior team leaders, has been meeting regularly and is actively supporting our hunger relief agency and partner distribution agencies across New Mexico as they prepare to continue their operations and distribute food to the people and communities they serve, as is done with other disaster response activities.

“Roadrunner Food Bank is also actively consulting with the Coronavirus Contingency Planning Task Force led by the Feeding America Disaster Services team and leaders from member food banks across the nation, and with the State of New Mexico Department of Health, State of New Mexico Health and Human Services Department, NM VOAD, the USDA and CDC.” Roadrunner invites actual donations of food. You can learn more at http://www.rrfb.org/give/give-food.

While food banks such as the Adventist Church in Corrales eagerly welcome vegetables, meat and canned goods, some are impeded in that many of the volunteers on whom they count to handle the sorting and distribution of food, are either ill and at home, or determined to stay well by staying home. One long-time volunteer for Storehouse West on Veranda Drive in Rio Rancho deeply regrets he is more or less forced to self isolate, both for his sake and for the well-being of his fellow volunteers, and food recipients.

Storehouse is now operating via a drive-thru service, Monday and Friday, 9 a.m. to 1:30, and Wednesday, noon to 4:30. p.m. Assistant to the Director Ann Conrad says they do indeed need more volunteers, especially people able to provide muscle. And while they are awash in little needed baby food, deliveries from Roadrunner of late have been uneven, given COVID-19 issues, and Storehouse West is low on dried beans, ramen, toilet paper and bars of soap.

Conrad heads to Sam’s Club regularly but can only buy one case of toilet paper and a few bars of soap each visit, yet the need is urgent. She reports she frequently buys about 60 gallons of milk at Smith’s, along with eggs.

Remarkably, Latitudes gas station, on Rio Rancho Boulevard, has come through for Conrad and Storehouse West. Through them, Conrad is able to buy pasta, tuna, crackers and powdered milk, for example, at wholesale prices, from their distributor. She emails them a list, pays, and returns a week later with a truck to pick up supplies.

St. Felix Pantry in Rio Rancho on Barbara Loop, a non-profit operated by the Felician sisters, was established in 1992. Because of COVID-19 restrictions, it is currently open Thursday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to noon, only for distribution of food. Virginia Garcia, administrative assistant to St. Felix’s powerhouse president and CEO, Sister Mary Angela Parkins, says the pantry is receiving about five to 15 new guests a day now, as compared to the norm of two per day. They are counting families now, rather than individuals, and Garcia reckons traffic is up 50 to 80 percent, reflecting 130-180 families per day.

Garcia too noted that many of their regular volunteers are among those who currently need to stay at home to be safe, and the pantry also reports it needs dried pinto beans, that they are “hard to find anywhere.”

A major St. Felix fundraising effort, a golf tournament scheduled for May 15, has been cancelled, though its 27th annual Thanksgiving gathering is still in place. St.Felix asks that people “Please consider donating monetarily to the pantry. We are in desperate need of procuring food for our guests.”
Donors can do so online at http://www.stfelixpantry.org/donate.

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