By Jake Stern-Powell
(USE BANNER: Helpers; A Column Exploring Helpers Who Can Use YOUR Help)
It’s 2022, and people are hungry. Experts estimate that over 86,000 residents experience food insecurity in Bernalillo County. Of those 86,000 residents, roughly 30,000 are children. Something needs to be done.
Since 1989, the Rio Grande Food Project has worked tirelessly to reduce food insecurity in Albuquerque. They’ve evolved from a food pantry associated with the Rio Grande Presbyterian Church to an independent non-profit focusing on addressing hunger and Its underlying conditions.
“We’re a food pantry and urban garden and what we call a community hub,” says Ari Herring, the organization’s executive director since 2016. “A community hub is sort of everything beyond food that attempts to address the root causes of food insecurity of the guests we serve.”
RGFP’s mission — alleviating hunger and cultivating long-term food security — is crafted to meet the needs of its neighbors and neighborhood. This has sparked the non-profit’s growth: In their first grocery distribution in winter 1989, members of the church handed out over 2,000 pounds of collected food donations. In 2021, the now-independent organization handed out more than six times that amount every week, on average.
Put another way: Last year, the RGFP helped feed 295 households or 775 seniors, adults, and children every week.
However, the organization knows there’s more to do to tackle the causes of food insecurity.
“We really look at the full spectrum,” Ari says of RGFP’s current projects that work in concert with their food distribution program. “We could throw millions of pounds of food at this issue forever. And it’s what we’ve been doing, and we’re good at it, and it’s essential. But it will never solve the problem.”
There’s the urban garden, for instance. It may only produce a small portion compared to the total amount of groceries distributed each month, but it helps bring the community together to learn how to grow produce at home. It even allows children to have their first experience tasting a cherry tomato.
Then there are the bill assistance programs with PNM and Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority, which help residents reduce their monthly bills and have more money to buy food.
And there’s the computer lab to help teach computer literacy in an age where gaining suitable employment means knowing how to access the internet to apply for jobs or do their work.
One day, there could be physical expansion outside of the space the organization continues to rent — for $1 a year — from the Rio Grande Presbyterian Church.
“We’ve got this dirt lot that we’re doing our drive-thru distributions on,” Ari says. “Our hope is to purchase that land and build what feels like a really dignified grocery store that has hours to accommodate a variety of schedules. [It could be somewhere] an eight-year-old who goes with his mom to our store does not feel a difference between that and heading to Smith’s.”
To do all this, though, the RGFP needs your help. Volunteers are always necessary, especially if you want to work on the urban garden.
Donations also help significantly. Today you can make an extra impact with your donation due to an ongoing pledge drive match. A charitable foundation will match every dollar donated until the RGFP reaches $30,000. (Here is the link to donate.)
Also, you can help donate groceries through a virtual food drive. You plus your friends, family, neighbors or coworkers could make a significant contribution to reducing someone’s hunger.
Food insecurity affects too many people. Organizations like the RGFP are engaged in the real and challenging work of addressing the problem and making our community better. They deserve our help.