Empty Handed and Hungry

“I’m sorry, we’re out of food.”

The volunteer at the food pantry registration table wasn’t trying to be cold or harsh.  It was a statement of fact.  They had ordered food for about 80 households and they had already served about 85.

“There’s nothing left?” A young woman with brown hair asked.  “Nothing left at all?”

The young woman with brown hair stepped away from the table.  She folded her arms and began pacing.  She looked worried.  She started to cry.

“Miss, are you okay?”  A dark haired woman called out.  There was no response. “Hey, come talk to me.”

“I don’t want to talk about it.  They said they are out of food, and I couldn’t get here any earlier because of the stupid bus.  I don’t know what I’m going to feed my kids tonight.  But, I don’t want to talk about it.  I’m just upset.”

The dark haired woman went to her.

“No, that’s not what I was gonna say,” said the dark haired woman.  “I just want to let you know that I did get my food box and you can share with me what I have.  I know what it’s like.  I understand.”

I noticed that the dark haired woman had placed her hand over her heart as she said the words ‘I understand.’

The brown haired woman started crying even harder.  The two embraced and cried together.

This was the scene recently at a downtown Albuquerque food pantry.  I was there to help people sign up for the SNAP/Food Stamp program.

On average, food stamp benefits would last participants 2.3 weeks.  This was before parts of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act expired and cuts were made to the program.  This drawdown in SNAP spending took effect on Nov. 1, 2013.  Now, a typical family of four will see a $36 drop in their monthly allotment.

$36 does not sound like that much.  But, think of a grocery cart containing a gallon of milk ($3.69), a box of cereal ($2.99), eight bananas ($3.12), a loaf of wheat bread ($2.00), some deli ham ($2.49), some deli cheese ($3.49), two boxes of spaghetti ($2.00), spaghetti sauce ($1.79), some ground beef ($4.99), some chicken breasts ($5.69), and 4 potatoes ($2.36) (total $34.62).

That’s several days’ worth of food that the proverbial family of four will have to seek elsewhere.  They’ll turn to local food pantries and soup kitchens.

According to the Center of Budget and Policy Priorities, 442,000 New Mexicans will be affected by the SNAP cuts.

But, one need not look to a non-partisan research group in D.C. to see how bad this will hit us locally.  Albuquerque charities are already feeling the impact.  The Holy Family Church Food Pantry and the Rio Grande Food Project have both experienced record numbers at their doors this month.

Now, the House of Representatives has proposed further cuts to the SNAP program to the tune of $40 billion over a ten year period.

I’ve seen how hard the staff and volunteers at these two food pantries work.  I cannot imagine them working any harder.  With hunger at an all-time high right here in New Mexico, how will charitable food programs be able to respond when they are already seeing record numbers of people turning to us and our network for help.

If there are further cuts to the SNAP program, there will be a lot more people walking away from food pantries empty handed and still hungry.

Jason Riggs is the SNAP Outreach Coordinator at Roadrunner Food Bank.

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