Charity facing food crunch

By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer

The Food Bank of Eastern New Mexico is caught in a food crunch that is gripping food charities across the United States, according to New Mexico Food Bank officials.

The food shortage has halted food deliveries in eastern New Mexico and elsewhere, according to officials.

“We are in a precarious situation,” Food Bank of Eastern New Mexico Executive Director Nancy Taylor said.

All eight banks in the New Mexico Association of Food Banks are grappling with similar restrictions, according to Association Executive Director Laurel Wyckoff, who visited Clovis Wednesday.

According to Wyckoff, the shortage is a result of a storm of market changes that have altered federal commodity programs.

Commodity programs supply banks with surplus food from American farmers. Improved technology and nudges to farmers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to cut down on surplus have slashed the amount of commodities received by banks, Wyckoff said.

For 2006, the New Mexico Association of Food Banks estimates 4.6 million pounds of federal commodities have been delivered, according to Wyckoff. She anticipates that amount will plunge by about 20 percent in 2007.

The Food Bank of Eastern New Mexico delivers food to 42 sites through the federal commodity Emergency Food Assistance Program . The sites are spread across eight counties on the eastern edge of New Mexico.

While distribution traditionally occurs monthly, delivery of commodity food to those sites will not occur until February, Taylor said.

Offering “two cans of food or a package of carrots,” Taylor explained, “would be insulting.”

“It’s not right,” she said.

New Mexico food banks will compile stashes of commodity food until February, and officials will hope there will be enough to distribute then, Wyckoff said.

Rural communities that dot New Mexico will feel the commodity shortage most acutely, officials said.

“Communities like Causey that are 35 miles from an Allsup’s store, it will affect them. No matter what we take them, we always receive a thank-you card from the village clerk,” Taylor said.

In communities that lie on the upper “wind-swept plains,” such as Des Moines, people rely on commodities to barrel through storms that render them snowbound, Taylor said.

New Mexico is the hungriest state in America, according to studies. A USDA study ranked the state number one in food insecurity.

“The good news,” said Wyckoff, who spent Wednesday in Clovis aiding in a study of access to food in New Mexico, “is New Mexicans are incredibly generous.”

Wyckoff hopes monetary or in-kind donations to food banks can fill in the gaps.

She is also rooting for the re-authorization of the Agriculture Appropriations Bill, which could ensure survival of federal commodity programs, establish more funds for food banks and ease their reliance on surplus food.

Without more funding, food shortages are likely to continue, Wyckoff said.

The study of access to food in New Mexico is being conducted by the non-profit Albuquerque organization, “Farm to Table.”