The COVID-19 pandemic came into our lives this past month like an unwelcome guest, and brought with it new risks and challenges for the Storehouse. The past few weeks have been a whirlwind of learning. When the the New Mexico Department of Health reported the first COVID-19 cases in our state, we quickly realized that we hand to make some changes in our food delivery to keep things safe for our staff, volunteers, and clients who come to receive food.
Our usual pantry day would start with a line of people out front. At 9 am we let everyone into our waiting room and give out numbers, then we serve people in the order of arrival, which usually takes until about noon with more people coming in all morning long. Each person would get a shopping cart filled with groceries they choose for themselves. That’s been our approach for years, because it empowers people to make their own selections, plus it lessens food waste. After all, each person knows what soups their children will eat or if someone in the family has a food allergy, so they only take only what they will eat.
The week COVID-19 hit New Mexico, we had that kind of day, but as we looked around the room at 250 people waiting for food, we realized we needed to think fast to make sure we weren’t hurting the families we are here to help. Of course, we want to provide food, but we need to do it safely, first and foremost. The following Tuesday, our Governor issued the 6 feet apart guidance and asked for no large groupings of people, which we could not be in compliance with under our current system, so instead we had to rethink how we could still get food to people in need, while dozens of volunteer groups cancelled and our regular volunteers, many of whom are seniors and at higher risk, were staying home.
We made the hard decision to suspend food distribution temporarily so we could regroup. But, during those two weeks, we carefully mapped out a new plan so we can operate as safely as possible going forward, and we gave out hundreds of boxes of food to people in need through a variety of other organizations, too. Though we needed to take a pause, hunger in New Mexico unfortunately does not. Without our doors open, we knew people were missing meals.
While all of this planning and preparation was going on, our staff and a handful of volunteers worked tirelessly to pack and deliver over 550 food boxes through a variety of partner organizations in the community including Roadrunner Food Bank, Generous Hearts Pantry, Praise Chapel Albuquerque, Mutual Aid, Southwest CARE Center, Teen Challenge of New Mexico, East Mountain Food Pantry, All Faith’s Children’s Advocacy Center, Vizionz-Sankofa, Eugene Fields Elementary, Legacy Church, Transgender Resource Center of New Mexico, Child of All Nations, and AHEPA. We are grateful for the help and support of these organizations and hope to continue to work with them as this pandemic goes on in our community.
We were happy yesterday, April 1, 2020 to re-open our own pantry doors to the public again, with new and safer protocols for these uncertain times. Instead of sitting in our waiting area, we asked people to line up outside, maintaining six feet of distance from each other in line. This follows CDC recommendations to prevent person-to-person virus spread and we used chalk lines to help people remember. Clients entered the pantry one or two at a time, checking in at the front desk where our staff members were wearing masks and personal protective gear. Then each family received a box of food along with a few small bags of meat and produce. Though they couldn’t shop, people were very grateful, and we were happy to be there for people in need.
As we continue to fight the contagion in our country, we will keep operating this way to keep people safe. Each week we plan to pre-package food boxes that can be carried out quickly and easily, minimizing the risk for all involved. Some of these box distributions will continue to happen in coordination with other nonprofits and service groups, and some will go out through our own food pantry location on Broadway, just south of Central in downtown Albuquerque. Though several other hunger organizations are currently closed, we worried that if we do that too, far too many people will go hungry. As the state’s largest food pantry, over 50,000 people count on us for groceries, and with more people experiencing job loss at an astounding rate, we know that the demand for our services will be increasing before things improve.
Thank you to everyone for understanding that we need to limit the numbers of volunteers and clients in the building, for being patient and watching our social media if you need food, and most of all for donating generously to make sure all families have enough to eat.
Working together, we are going to get through this, and we greatly appreciate your support.