Hundreds of residents in Doña Ana County’s most impoverished communities will receive food donation boxes this winter thanks to a partnership between Doña Ana County and local food bank Casa de Peregrinos.

The food distribution system has been in place for years in seven of the county’s Community Resource Centers, but legalities prohibiting Doña Ana County from soliciting donations for the food pantry program led to an alignment with the non-profit agency Casa de Peregrinos several months ago. It’s a collaboration the food bank’s executive director says comes at just the right time.

“The county’s Community Resource Centers allow us to serve people in the rural areas of Doña Ana County,” said Casa de Peregrinos Executive Director Lorenzo Alba. “Without them, we would not be able to get food to some of the people who need it most in our county.”

Volunteers in Chaparral, Doña Ana, Organ, Rincon, Vado/Del Cerro and Radium Springs come together each month to assemble food boxes for distribution to qualified county residents. For most of the volunteers, it’s a time to reconnect with others in their community for a greater purpose.
Sandy Tatum, who was once a recipient of the food-donation boxes, doesn’t miss an opportunity to pitch in and help sort goods and box non-perishables.
“All of us in the Radium Springs community are more like family,” Tatum said of her neighbors who help Radium Springs Community Resource Center Director Lilia Ramos on the second Thursday of each month.

On one particular donation day, Tatum and a dozen other volunteers reported for work at 8 a.m. to the center to divide donated peaches, potatoes, apple juice, dry pasta, and some frozen ground turkey to more than 50 area households who will come to claim them at the center.
Combined, there are more than 500 residents in Doña Ana County who qualify for the food-distribution program. Last year alone, more than half a million pounds of food were distributed in the county by Casa de Peregrinos.
According to Alba, the need will only increase as the economy continues to falter.

“Last year’s Census numbers showed 25 percent of our county population lives in poverty,” said Alba. “From the work that we do at the food bank, I would say that number is closer to 30 percent. Now that we’re moving into our busiest time of year, the need for food donations is greater than ever.”

That plea was echoed at a recent presentation to the Doña Ana Board of County Commissioners, after which District 2 Commissioner and Chairwoman Dolores Saldaña-Caviness asked all Doña Ana County employees to pitch in and help supplement the shelves at Casa de Peregrinos with an in-house food drive.

Each department within Doña Ana County has been collecting non-perishable food donations in the past several weeks. All donated items will be picked up on Nov. 18 to be taken to Casa de Peregrinos.

“And that food will likely be distributed the next day,” said Alba. “Once donations come in, they are quickly distributed. But people are doing more, and the donations are starting to come in, and we are grateful.”

Casa de Peregrinos accepts donations from various resources, including the Roadrunner Food Bank, area farmers, and the public. They are always in need of cereal, dry pasta, beans, rice, eggs, oatmeal and baby food.

If you would like to contribute to the Doña Ana County food drive, you can drop off any of these items or other non-perishable goods at the Doña Ana County Government Center, 845 N. Motel Blvd.