L.A. poverty on the rise

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Children bear brunt of New Mexico poverty

By Carol A. Clark

Each month, The Food Depot distributes an average of 300,000 pounds of food and household products, providing more than 400,000 meals through its partner agencies in nine Northern New Mexico counties.

Through LA Cares, the nonprofit organization has provided 31,221 pounds of food to local residents so far this year.

Statistics in 2006 showed a 3.1 percent poverty rate (575 people) in Los Alamos County.

“Being the richest county in the state, we should be able to do something to help,” said County Councilor Sharon Stover.

Stover spoke with Executive Director Sherry Hooper recently and said the county is looking into how it legally may be of assistance.

Hooper describes the hunger issue as a hidden crisis.

“The challenge for us battling hunger is that it has such a hidden face. It’s not as easy to recognize as when we see the faces of hungry people in Africa,” Hooper said during an interview this morning. “Hunger in Northern New Mexico is very prevalent, very severe and very hidden. It can be your neighbor or your son’s best friend. Because you don’t see hunger doesn’t mean it isn’t there.”

The Food Depot’s mission is striving to end hunger in Northern New Mexico. Headquartered in Santa Fe, its network is comprised of more than 120 partner agencies including emergency food pantries, hot meal programs, homeless shelters, youth programs, group homes, senior centers, day care centers and shelters for battered families.

Children continue to bear the brunt of poverty in New Mexico with more than 119,000 children living in poverty ­— a rate of 24.2 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.  

Among New Mexico households with children, 74 percent are food insecure and 26 percent are experiencing hunger, according to The Food Bank statistics. Some 23 percent of children served were not eating enough because there was not enough money in the home to buy food, 16.6 percent of children skipped meals because there was not enough money to buy food and 15 percent of children went hungry because there was not enough money to buy food.

More than 41 percent of the clients had to choose between paying for food and paying for heat or fuel; 32 percent of clients had to choose between paying for food and paying for rent or mortgage; 28 percent of clients had to choose between food and paying for medicine or medical care.

Many older Americans live on fixed incomes and are forced to choose between paying for medicine, heat and food.

The Food Depot is an active member of Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster - Northern New Mexico and provides food, beverages and other products to disaster victims and relief workers.

In 2000, The Food Depot provided more than 1.3 million pounds of food to victims of the Cerro Grande Fire.

In 2008, the nonprofit organization distributed enough food to provide nearly four million meals in the nine county area it serves.

There’s a need for two to three times that amount. The volume of food collected and distributed is strictly a matter of budget limitations. The more financial support the organization receives, the more surplus food they’ll be able to share.

Hunger is a growing issue because more people are losing hours of employment and others their jobs altogether, Hooper said.

“There are many ways to help The Food Depot distribute more food. Financial donations are always needed and I would ask people to consider volunteering their time,” she said. “It’s very important for people to hold food drives, whether through their churches or synagogues, schools, community organizations or at their workplace.”

To learn more, access www.thefooddepot.org or call 471-1633.