One of the boldest moves around Santa Fe in recent months has taken place at the Food Depot, which has been fighting for years to stave off hunger in northern New Mexico with persistence, courage and an almost maniacal devotion. to the mission.
No one can claim the organization has failed: it distributed 10.5 million pounds of food in 2021, averaging around 737,627 meals per month. In a part of the world ravaged by poverty and the pandemic, she answered the call throughout the crisis. People worked during holidays and days off; essential if not vital food deliveries were made on weekends. The sacrifices, big and small, were real.
“I’m so proud of us and our staff,” Food Depot assistant manager Jill Dixon said of the past two years. “The Food Depot came out and stood up for the community. And I stand by that. But that doesn’t mean we can’t do better.
And so, with these words resonating every day, comes a very important and daunting next step. With much soul-searching and little fanfare, The Food Depot essentially tore up its old operating model and said, more or less: let’s aim really big.
In the months and years ahead, The Food Depot — its FY22 budget is $8.1 million — plans to change the way it operates from an organization that largely provided “services indirect” to an organization that aggressively and strategically pursues hunger in a practice with better targeted efforts.
In short, The Food Depot won’t just deliver food, Dixon said. He’s going to seek more information from his customers about what “good” food is and creatively find ways to make sure those offerings get into the right hands at the right time.
Coming in July, at Española: the launch of a free grocery concept that will offer items that hungry people can choose from as if they were going to Smith’s or Albertsons. This does not mean that Casita de Comida will have the selection that a regular store would provide, but it will provide more options and opportunities for those who need it. The pilot, assuming it is successful, could also later be rolled out to other cities, including Santa Fe, Las Vegas, NM and Raton.
Coming in 2023: a contraption known as the Foodmobile Dos, the next generation of the depot’s Big Blue Bus that delivered food to hungry communities in the area. The bus is nice, Dixon says, but the next iteration is a custom-ordered tractor-trailer, with 900 square feet of interior space that can serve 250 households as soon as it pulls into a parking lot, or in the case of a lot. from localities in northern New Mexico, dirt road.
Under a new strategic plan, approved by The Food Depot’s board of directors, the new way of doing business is broader and more involved than those two examples, Dixon said. But it is indicative of the changes – both in thinking and in action – brought about by the pandemic.
Dixon said the first signs of change would have come when many of The Food Depot’s partners — often nonprofits that relied on older volunteers to take Food Depot’s offerings and deliver them to customers — couldn’t. actually deliver the food because of the health risks.
“We encountered the question, ‘How will food get to Mora County this month?’ thing,” Dixon recounted. “If the only person running it gets COVID, what do you do?”
But there were also other signs. One came home to Dixon as she spoke with an elderly woman about a food distribution during the pandemic. The woman was thankful and thankful because she, like too many people in this country, had no other choice. But the apples provided by Dixon? She couldn’t eat them because of the state of her teeth.
“It makes you take a step back,” Dixon said. “We had done so much in terms of logistics…we had loaded thousands of pounds of food. But never for a second did I think: is this food suitable for the people we serve? »
Going forward, she said, The Food Depot plans to talk with its food recipients, listen to them, about the food they need, not just the food they receive. Simple questions, such as “If you could choose 10 items, what would they be?” could help the organization make better choices about where, when and how to help. And with the challenges faced by nonprofits during the pandemic, The Food Depot may have to lead the charge against hunger, not just be the armory.
The Northern New Mexico Food Bank isn’t the first in the country to kickstart this new reality; the ideas were tried out of state. But in a place where the hurdles are high and real, the idea that The Food Depot would shun safety for ambition is laudable. Not everyone would try it.
“Our discomfort,” Dixon replies, “is in the best interests of the people who trust us.”
Phill Casaus is the editor of The New Mexican.