By Tonya Fennell: Freedom Newspapers
The number of people visiting food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters is growing, according to the executive director of the Food Bank of Eastern New Mexico.
Nancy Taylor said a survey showed more than 89,000 people a month sought help last year in Curry and surrounding counties.
“The numbers (of hungry people) are on the rise,” Taylor said. “It breaks my heart.”
The Food Bank of Eastern New Mexico warehouses and distributes food items to charities, including senior centers, soup kitchens and domestic violence shelters.
Taylor said the most vulnerable are senior citizens who live alone on a fixed income.
“If they’re (senior citizens) lucky, then they’re on a state income,” Taylor said, “but it (income) isn’t enough to get them through.”
A hospital emergency, loss of a job, unexpected car repairs or a natural disaster can leave people not knowing where their next meal is coming from, said Rosella Kennedy, hunger coordinator for the state Human Services Department.
Kennedy spoke at a recent meeting of the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee.
A lack of education and financial management skills and limited access to child care and health care can also lead to hunger, Kennedy said.
“The thing to keep in mind is that hunger is closer than you think,” Kennedy said. “We want to hammer home that it’s not always the person’s fault they’re hungry.”
New Mexico ranks third in the nation in hunger — defined as the uneasy or painful sensation caused by a lack of food and a recurrent lack of access to food, according to Kennedy.
Richard Gomez, co-director of the Lighthouse Mission, said the soup kitchen at the non-profit, faith-based organization serves 130 people daily.
“Hunger is a problem,” Gomez said, “because inflation is up and wages are low.”
Gomez said the mission sees an increase in people seeking food at the end of the month because individuals on government assistance can’t stretch their checks to cover an entire month.
—The Associated Press contributed to this story.