“It was me in an empty room with a phone and a computer.”
That was Alissa Barnes’s first day on the job at Roadrunner Food Bank. The year was 2008. Alissa was tasked with starting an experimental new program called Mobile Food Pantry. Only a few food banks of around the country had tried it at that time.
The concept seemed simple. New Mexico is so big and rural that many people live too far from food pantries to get help with food. There were, and still are, some counties where accessing a grocery store could be a one hour drive. So, if hungry people couldn’t get to a food pantry, then bring the food pantry to the people.
The program was so new that the Food Bank was looking for partners. A member of the Pajarito Mesa Community Church of the Nazarene reached out to Roadrunner. He saw the need right on the Pajarito Mesa. His neighbors didn’t have access to roads or even basics such as running water in their homes.
At the time, even the church was bare bones. Services were held out of what looked like several large railroad car with no cooling or heating. But, the need for food was immediate. The volunteers and staff of the church recognized it and wanted to help their neighbors.
On June 18, 2008 at 10 am, the Mobile Food Pantry pulled into the church’s dirt parking lot with a cargo of 3,150 pounds of food. 57 households were fed. Later the same day, an additional 2,500 pounds were delivered to a second partner – the Seventh Day Adventist Church in Corrales. The program that began as an idea and an empty room was off and running.
“The first month we had four sites,” Alissa recalls. “We had 13 in the fourth month, 17 in the fifth, and 31 during the six month.” Within a month or two, the program had expanded into Chaves County, Lea County and others. Some Mobile Food Pantry “drops” were as far as six hours one way. Alissa kept a trusty pair of Doc Martin boots by her desk at all times in case of snow and rain. Our trucks were constantly on the road bringing important life-sustaining meals to the most vulnerable and poverty stricken communities in our large and vast state.
By the end of 2008, 1 million pounds had been distributed. In 2009, the figure was 2.5 million. Now, in its fifth year, the program is likely to top 5.4 million pounds. It will help 95,000 households made up of children, adults, seniors, and families. And each and every one of them struggles to find enough resources to put together regular meals.
Thanks to strong partnerships with individuals, businesses, and organizations, over 270,000 people have been fed this year alone through the program, almost half of whom are children. Some of our original partners like the Seventh Day Adventist Church in Corrales are here with us five years later and still reaching into hungry communities. The faces of clients and helpers have changed over the years, but the goal is still the same -serve and help the vulnerable and hungry in our community.
Thank you to all who have partnered with us and helped us bring these important meals to communities that need our help. You took a chance with us in creating this new innovative program, and it is working!