An Interview with Sherry F. Hooper, Executive Director
Local Hero: Outstanding Nonprofit
Photos by Stacey M. Adams
As the food bank for nine counties in northern New Mexico, The Food Depot provides food to more than fifty-five thousand people experiencing hunger each quarter. The majority of The Food Depot’s hunger relief services involves food distribution to more than 145 nonprofit programs, including food pantries, hot meal programs, homeless and domestic violence shelters, youth programs, and senior sites. Each month, The Food Depot provides more than 430,000 meals to the most vulnerable of our community: children, seniors, working families, and those in ill health.
How did the Food Depot get started?
In the early 1990s, it was evident that northern New Mexico needed a food bank. One did not exist and nonprofit agencies were soliciting food donations independently. To streamline those efforts and allow the agencies to focus on their missions and core competencies, The Food Brigade, Kitchen Angels, and Food for Santa Fe joined forces to create a food bank; planning and start-up operations for The Food Depot were underway in 1993 and 1994.
With the dedicated inspiration and support of those three founding organizations, members of The Food Depot’s board of directors, and several community leaders, the food bank program took shape. By November 1995, The Food Depot was serving thirty-five agencies and had distributed approximately 130,000 pounds of food. In 2019, the food bank served 145 nonprofit food programs and provided 6.3 million pounds of food, enough for 5.3 million meals, for hungry New Mexicans.
What are the biggest challenges we face in this state as we try to eliminate hunger?
The rural aspect of our state creates a challenge in providing food assistance. Much of New Mexico is composed of isolated rural communities with few resources, but great need. The Food Depot is consistently exploring opportunities to meet their need for food. Another challenge The Food Depot faces is the lack of food resources in New Mexico. While we utilize food from local sources, we must look outside our state to bring in the vast quantities of food needed to feed the growing number of hungry New Mexicans.
Volunteers prepping vegetables at The Food Depot.
What are some misconceptions you’ve heard about hunger in New Mexico?
Hunger is a hidden crisis in New Mexico. The faces of hunger in our state look very different from those images you might see of terrible famine in Africa. Hunger in New Mexico means children going to bed hungry and eating only at school each day; parents going without food so their children may eat; and seniors choosing between buying the medicine they need or paying for food. Another misconception we find is that people requesting help are unwilling to work. In fact, more than 50 percent of the households seeking help have at least one working adult. Of households with no one able to work, 57 percent are disabled, in poor health, or acting as a caretaker, and 30 percent are retired. About 30 percent of people helped are children.
How involved have local farms been in reducing hunger here in New Mexico, and how might more local food become available to those who need it most?
The Food Depot has a goal of providing at least 50 percent of our food distribution in fruits and vegetables. The food bank is extremely fortunate to have the kind help of New Mexico farmers. We work through the Santa Fe Farmers Market to access fresh produce when farmers haven’t sold their product. The market also gives us booth space to encourage customers to buy extra produce to donate at our booth for hungry New Mexicans. This opportunity helps both our local farmers and people in need.
What changes would you like to see at the policy level to address hunger in our state?
The Food Depot encourages our elected officials to make policy changes that address poverty. Hunger is a symptom of poverty.
How can readers help with the mission of the Food Depot?
People who want to help end hunger can volunteer their time at The Food Depot or a local food pantry, conduct food drives through their business, school or religious organization, and make a financial contribution.