In a "normal" year on a weekend in November, dozens of people would gather on their bikes or get ready to ride on a cool morning with $15 to $20 in their pockets, an empty backpack and a bike lock, ready for another Cranksgiving food drive. Operating in teams or as individuals, Santa Feans would rush all over town buying specific food items from a list handed out by event organizers and then pedal as quickly as possible back to the home-base brewery.
Not in 2020.
While Santa Fe's Cranksgiving is still going forward on Nov 14 and multiple teams have already registered to ride, the event almost didn't happen this year, according to Bill Lane, an employee at Bicycle Technologies International and one of the event's chief organizers.
The Santa Fe-based company sells bicycle components and accessories worldwide.
"The Food Depot does not have the ability to muster volunteers to do their usual food donation sorting activity, and that almost stopped us in our tracks this year because what's a food drive without food?" Lane tells SFR.
But fortunately, Lane and his co-organizers worked with the local Albertsons chain to sell turkeys at a cost break to Cranksgiving participants.
So this year, Cranksgiving riders will register online and pre-order a turkey for $20, then pick up their turkeys from the designated Albertsons in Santa Fe and pedal it to a waiting refrigerated truck provided by The Food Depot. Teams and individuals can pick up the birds and complete the "migration" anytime between 7 am and 2 pm.
"Here we have a chance for cyclists to leverage their buying power to do something really good for The Food Depot," Lane says. "Because we're just talking about frozen turkeys, there's no sorting and organizing required. It just goes straight from the store to The Food Depot with a little traipsing around town in a backpack."
The goal is to donate 500 turkeys this year. The count is currently at 201 donated turkeys as of publication. It's a lot of birds. And while the food drive is still a physical challenge complete with possible prizes to win like in pre-COVID years, Lane and other longtime participants will miss the chaotic camaraderie of rushing into grocery stores and bike shops, as well as the afterparty at Back Road Pizza.
Gilbert Quintana has ridden in Cranksgiving for the last seven years as part of the team for his company, BayWa r.e. Solar Systems. He plans on carrying as many turkeys as he can, including "one on each handlebar" and two on his back.
Quintana will miss the same traditions as Lane: a beer after the ride and bonding with other cyclists, as well as the frenzied search for items on the list.
But both men recognize the increased importance for the Cranksgiving donations in 2020, socially-distanced event or not. The number of Santa Feans' experiencing food insecurity across the county has exploded as a result of the economic devastation wrought by COVID-19.
In The Food Depot's service area, anecdotal reports estimate that demand for hunger relief services has increased by 30%, according to Jill Dixon, director of development at the organization. Gloomy food insecurity projections for the end of 2020 reveal that New Mexico will likely be ranked second worst in the nation for childhood food insecurity, with 33% of children experiencing hunger. In 2018, New Mexico was fifth nationally, according to statistics compiled by Feeding America, a national nonprofit network of food banks.
The Food Depot's service area has also grown dramatically, according to provided data. The Food Depot is now Northern New Mexico's only food bank as well as one of its largest food pantries. A combination of increased demand for food as well as closures and limited capacity of other pantries has made Santa Fe's Food Depot a necessity for thousands of New Mexicans with hunger pains and an empty wallet.
"Food insecurity around the nation has increased dramatically, and Santa Fe is no exception…It cannot be overstated how profound the need is," Dixon tells SFR.
In Santa Fe, 12.2% of the people in The Food Depot's service area were food insecure. That number has now jumped to 17.4% in a world changed by a pandemic. At a drive-through Mobile Food Pantry distribution in Santa Fe in February, usually a little more than 1,000 people would receive assistance. Since the pandemic and subsequent economic crisis began, an average of 2,800 people seek support each week.
Turkeys have more to do with helping New Mexicans than providing a dish for a Thanksgiving meal and giving Santa Feans something to do on a weekend in mid-November. It's a small part of restoring something familiar to at least one day this year.
"It is always important for people in our community to know and see that they are cared for, that strangers are willing to help in hard times," Dixon says. "In this season, a turkey dinner can provide more than nutrition—it could provide a sense of normalcy in a year that has been defined by struggle."
Register for the 2020 Santa Fe Cranksgiving here.