Fixing food insecurity might take more than food

High school kids come around dropping leaflets at my door asking me to donate a bag full of food. This time of year, there are food drives everywhere. Sometimes I give, sometimes I don’t.

It makes more sense to give money. It’s less inspired but more practical. I was reminded of that recently by Wally Verdooren, Chief Development Officer at Roadrunner Food Bank. Because of discounts and bulk purchasing, the food bank can provide five meals for $1. I can’t give a can of tuna fish for that amount.

Don’t jump all over me. I don’t want to quash anyone’s enthusiasm. Many people are more motivated to give something tangible than to write a check. We want to encourage the teens, church groups and everybody else to do whatever works to help feed those in need.

According to Roadrunner, more than 17 percent of New Mexicans are food insecure, meaning they can’t count on regular access to food. That’s one in six New Mexicans, or more than 360,000 people. It includes 28 percent of the state’s children, or 145,000.

Roadrunner is New Mexico’s main nonprofit food assistance hub, working throughout the state with partner distribution organizations and more than 500 local agencies—food pantries, soup kitchens, after-school programs, and senior centers. Roadrunner works with these local partners by collecting and distributing 30 million pounds of food per year to people in need, at no cost to them. That’s more than 25 million meals a year, 70,000 people per week.

Most of the food is donated or purchased at steep discounts from retailers and other commercial sources. If packaged food has passed its “best used by” date, it is generally still perfectly safe to eat, according to national food safety guidelines that Roadrunner follows. Retailers also contribute fresh produce that they won’t sell because it isn’t pretty enough. This food might otherwise be thrown away.

“Food rescue” is the new political term for saving good food from the landfill. It’s becoming a major national initiative in response to a major national disgrace. According to, an astonishing 31 percent of U.S.-produced food ends up in landfills while millions of Americans go hungry. The financial loss is $161 billion, plus another $1 billion in the cost of disposal. The rotting food generates enormous quantities of methane, a greenhouse gas.

Much of the food donated to Roadrunner, including that nutritionally critical fresh produce, is rescued.

The food comes into Roadrunner’s cavernous Albuquerque warehouse and may be passed to local organizations or loaded on Roadrunner’s refrigerated trucks to distribution centers around the state, where distribution is often managed by volunteers.

Roadrunner calculates New Mexico is still short by 63 million meals a year. So the group has redefined its mission: move beyond feeding hungry people and end hunger in New Mexico – which naturally means ending poverty in New Mexico.

It’s interesting to consider how contributing to food security could support economic development, a bottom-up approach that is different from the standard methods we New Mexicans talk about endlessly.

Does food insecurity contribute to low learning levels, in both children and adults? We know it does. Does it contribute to costly health problems? Yes. Does it contribute to low productivity and the lack of job skills that is commonly cited as one of the factors holding New Mexico back? Maybe. Does it contribute to crime? Quite possibly. There is room for creativity in the way a food supplier might be able to approach these issues – and not only Roadrunner but other organizations that supply food in New Mexico.

Nobody eats in the long run, someone once observed. Hunger is right now. Today, some people are enjoying the holiday, others are lonely and isolated, still others are cold and hungry. Give a can or write a check.

Triple Spaced Again, © New Mexico News Services 2015

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