An abundance of food is a common theme on a day like Thanksgiving. But in New Mexico, many families are experiencing the opposite problem. About 1 in 6 households here don't know where their next meal will come from, holiday or not. KUNM's Carrie Jung brings us a closer look at who's hungry in New Mexico, with a visit to New Mexico’s largest food bank.
Last Friday the Roadrunner Food Bank was bustling as volunteers and staff members were busy prepping for one of their busiest weeks of the year...Thanksgiving.
While the food bank itself isn't open on Thanksgiving day, there are more than 500 food pantries and soup kitchens around the state who are relying on their food shipments to make their thanksgiving service a reality.
There's lots to do in this 150,000 square foot warehouse, and today there's no shortage of volunteers to help out...and they came in all shapes and sizes. Some of the smallest ones being Ms. Linda Dejarle's 4th grade class from Manzano Day School. They're busy separating a mountain of potatoes into more manageable 10 pound boxes.
"The kids are really enjoying it, they feel like they're really making a contribution as opposed to gathering money or something like that."
As the kids did their best to put a dent in that potato mountain, a volunteer group from Intel was busy sorting a 2,000 pound bag of beans. Team member Kim Tapia says the food bank is one of her favorite places to volunteer.
"I think it's a really neat place for us to come in as a team and all be able to pitch in together to complete a project that helps the community."
A few other volunteers were scattered around the warehouse organizing dry goods, and a couple of Border Patrol officers even stopped by that day to deliver the spoils of their recent employee food drive...which weighed in at about 50 pounds.
Sonya Warwick, the food bank's communications officer says Thanksgiving is usually a VERY busy time and she's grateful to see the increase in donations because it provides them with a food supply they don't usually have access to. She says, "It's nice to see the variety of products. It's not too long after growing season, so we have access to things like onions and potatoes. We get more protein items."
And Warwick says, that diversity helps to give hungry families a more balanced diet.
"When you're a person who's wondering how they are going to feed their family, that might be the only produce they get. I've heard clients say this is the first meat I've had to serve my kids in 4 months. A mom told me a week ago that I give my portions first and I don't eat. I skip 3 or 4 meals a week so that I make sure my kids eat."
And while that may sound extreme, missing meals is a stark reality for many New Mexicans. According to a 2011 study by the Food Depot, a food bank in Santa Fe, more than 800,000 people in the state regularly miss up to 12 meals per month. And about 6% of New Mexican families are experiencing hunger right now.
"And hunger very simply, but horrifyingly, means people are experiencing pain from lack of food."
That's Sherry Hooper, the executive director at the Food Depot, in Santa Fe. She says, thanks to the downturn in the economy a few year ago, the state has seen a significant increase in the number of people seeking food assistance.
And just like the variety of people who are volunteering to help fight hunger, those in need are also coming from all walks of life.
"Hunger is closer than you think, meaning it could be your neighbor, an elderly neighbor, or your son's friend and his family. It's shocking how prevalent it is."
Because the need is no longer just from low income families. Again Sonya Warwick:
"I think the face of hunger has really changed. It's affecting people who are working. About 30% to 35% of the people we help have a full time job, they just can't seem to make ends meet on a monthly basis."
But despite the recession, Warwick says she feels fortunate, because the food bank is still managing to keep up with demand.
Right now, the Roadrunner warehouse is bursting at the seams with food donations that will give thousands of hungry New Mexicans a nutritious meal this holiday season.