It’s 9 a.m. on a frigid Tuesday as a line begins to form outside of St. Felix Pantry in Rio Rancho.
As the sun’s rays gleam from the east spilling through the many open spaces that wrap around many of the city’s buildings and business signs, the sound of an unlatched door catches the crowd’s attention.
The once-mingling mass stands silently, eagerly, waiting with boxes in hand to get one of the most fundamental needs in life: food.
The people standing in line come from a wide variety of places: Some live close by and some have come a great distance. After all, Sandoval County is close to the size of New Hampshire and covers many regions with very little resources.
This is a scenario that St. Felix Pantry President and CEO Sister Mary Angela Parkins and a few volunteers set out to remedy a few months ago. This vision is now a reality after the Sandoval County Commission unanimously voted to award the pantry a four-year, $160,000 grant last month.
“We saw a posting in the paper that anyone could apply for this grant and we thought, ‘Why can’t we do it?’” Parkins asked. “It took about two weeks of heavy studying, but we were able to map out all of the areas in the county where we saw had a need.”
Parkins said that many of the people that come to the pantry on a weekly basis have to travel 70-plus miles to stand in line.
“They have to use a lot of gasoline to get the bit of food we give them,” Parkins said. “We thought if we could get the food out to those traveling that use the pantry and save them gasoline, we could reach more people.”
John Schuman, St. Felix Pantry board member, said the initial plan was to provide resources to the areas of the county that are considered food deserts.
“A food desert is a place that doesn’t have a close grocery store or any ready available food,” Schuman said. “We at St. Felix Pantry have prided ourselves at taking leadership on a number of hunger issues, not just throughout the county but throughout the state, and this was one of them,”
Schuman said the mobile food program was basically a logical extension of what the pantry had been providing local resident for 25 years.
With the new funds, the pantry can provide fresh fruits, produce and canned goods to many people in the county that may have trouble making to the pantry’s actual location, he said.
“There is a direct relationship between hunger and food quality and people’s wellbeing, particular seniors and children,” Schuman said.
The three main county areas that the mobile food truck will travel to, he said, are Cuba, Jemez Springs and Cochiti Pueblo.
“Our goal is to provide a mobile food pantry service every Monday in alternative locations,” Schuman said. “So we would provide food in Cuba and Jemez, and then the following Monday we will go to Cochiti.”
Schuman also specified that the mobile food pantry will have a project manager and social worker available for each trip to these outlying areas.
“Along with the other food we provide we will, once a month, deliver fresh protein like chicken to the residents in these remote food deserts,” Schuman added. “We are thrilled for this opportunity and believe we can be underway with this operation by the first of the year.”