3 Questions

3 Questions With The Food Depot Executive Director Sherry Hooper

New Mexico has always faced food insecurity, and the recent wildfires are only exacerbating an already fragile situation. The Food Depot’s Executive Director Sherry Hooper tells SFR upticks in need continue to grow, and the public can always do more. Hooper spoke with SFR to remind us about the org’s pressing needs and what individuals can do to help displaced people in the region. Note the nonprofit’s warehouse (1222 A Siler Road, (505) 471-1633) is open for donations, too.

From the perspective of The Food Depot, what’s the hunger situation looking like in the wildfire-hit regions?

We saw an increase of people asking for help prior to the fires. We hadn’t seen these numbers since May 2020. Federal benefits decreased or expired, and so people are turning to us and our partner agencies for additional help. Some people haven’t been able to return to work because of a lack of adequate daycare, for example. We anticipated that, and [the fires] are just added on top of that. But we’re experiencing big numbers at our distribution centers, especially as grocery stores are closed because staff are evacuating or trying to protect their homes. We’re trying to get food up to Española, Taos, Raton—places people have evacuated to and are in the process of doing. We’re seeing that community donations aren’t keeping up with the increased demand. We’re having to order a lot of the products being requested by the different distribution sites. We just had to order a truckload of bottled water and Gatorade, and fresh produce and hygiene items obviously have a lot of demand right now, too.

What’s the org doing to help combat the food portion of this crisis?

We’re working with local emergency managers to provide food, these needed hygiene products and other things. This is a year-round goal for us, so we’re used to bringing donations in and providing for people. When I say we’re working with other local orgs, I mean partner agencies, emergency food pantries, soup kitchens and other nonprofit food programs. So obviously, a lot of those orgs are seeing an increase in demand right now. Some people are staying in hotels or in Red Cross shelters, and others are staying with family and friends. Those people staying with family and friends are people we’re really trying to reach because these households have so many extra mouths to feed. We’re in close contact to county emergency managers, plus the Red Cross and state emergency operations command center, who then communicate needs back to us. By knowing that, we can meet unique regional needs.

Our community and others throughout Northern New Mexico have been really generous. What we’re finding is those sites and shelters are overwhelmed with donations, so we pick them up and have our volunteers sort them. People are dropping off everything, including things like pet food, which we’ll take. Those sites don’t have the person power to arrange and organize, which would make it easier to access in an emergency. So we pick them up, sort them into boxes filled and labeled and bring it back up to them. That way when we get a call requesting certain items, we can just load them up onto our truck and take them over. We’re getting a lot of requests for diapers. Diapers are needed to help enable families to return to work or to school. Most people don’t know this, but if families can’t provide disposable diapers to the daycare, they can’t leave their kids there. So we wanted to remove that barrier. Water for firefighters is a must, and even things like Chapstick and eye drops are important.

What can Santa Feans do to assist The Food Deport for the people hit by these disasters?

Locals can help by donating in financial contributions. That goes to the cost of fuel and supplies, which is so high right now. Food costs and fuel costs have skyrocketed, which makes it even harder for everyone in this situation. People can visit our website and see the list of items we’re really needing. So, by working through us, you’re better able to address the specific needs of evacuees and firefighters. They can drop off donations at sites throughout the city. We aren’t short of volunteers right now, but with COVID-19 coming back we’re concerned people will choose to stay home and we won’t have enough volunteers to sort what’s coming in. We don’t want to sit on those donations.

Volunteers can apply through the website. We have, because of COVID-19 rising cases, gone back to being masked in our buildings. This Saturday [May 14], we’re having a letter-carriers food drive: People can put their donations by their mailbox. Label it ‘For TFD.’ The Postal Service will load them up and bring them back to the Post Office, where we’ll be waiting to sort them and get them out.

Donations can be made by mail or at thefooddepot.org.

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