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The loss of emergency SNAP benefits creates demand at Las Cruces food pantry

At the beginning of March, New Mexicans stopped receiving federal emergency allotments from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The emergency allotments began in 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 Pandemic, and gave a family of three a maximum of $750 a month to be spent on food items. With the end of the emergency allotments, a family of three will return to receiving $335 per month, according to the New Mexico Human Services Department.

With the end of the extra SNAP benefits, food pantries are preparing to help those in need of nutritional assistance. Lorenzo Alba Jr is the executive director of Casa De Peregrinos. He said that it’s the mission of the organization to make sure that less-fortunate individuals within the community don’t go hungry due to a lack of resources.

“Everybody knows a family that’s going through food insecurity. Everybody in the community knows a family that’s going through this tough time. Right now while we go through this inflation issue and this cost of food issue, I think it’s going to be super important that people know where we are,” he said. “Nearly 40% of the people that we serve are children. Another 20% are seniors. If we can get those people taken care of, we are doing our job then.”

The loss of emergency SNAP benefits creates demand at Las Cruces food pantry

Alba said that the end of pandemic assistance under the SNAP food program has led to an influx of people looking for help at the food pantry.

“It doesn’t help that it happens when inflation and the cost of food is so high. That is something that’s affected a lot of the families that we currently serve,” he said. “We’re beginning to see more people show up even at our rural pantries. Because, what they’re telling us, is that the cost of fuel, the cost of gas, and obviously the cost of food, so they’re coming to see us, new people that we haven’t seen in a while, or that haven’t been to our pantries ever are beginning to come to our pantries.”

For many in the Las Cruces area, food pantries like Casa de Peregrinos are essential to feeding their families. Mary Gonzales is a resident of Las Cruces. She said that the pantry has been a big help to her, as it’s a struggle to be able to feed her family with the benefits that she’s currently receiving.

“Money doesn’t last us. Everything is very expensive. The food, the basic necessities, you have to think twice about going to the store. Money just doesn’t last, and it affects us.”

Between 2019 and 2021, an average of 11.5% of New Mexico households were food insecure, according to the United States Department of Agriculture, compared to the national average of 10.4%. With the end of benefits, some community members are bracing for a difficult road ahead.

Volunteers help stock shopping carts at Casa de Peregrinos.
Jonny Coker
Volunteers help stock shopping carts at Casa de Peregrinos.

Jess Carrington is a resident of Las Cruces and an expecting mother. She said that she feels that government officials, particularly at the federal level, have trouble understanding the everyday issues that someone at her income level deals with every day, and that the cutting of SNAP benefits is a reflection of that.

“Especially expecting a baby it’s just been cutting corners. Even with the food stamps that we do receive. Of course places like this at Casa de Peregrinos is definitely adding to our stability of food,” she said. “Of course there’s a huge income gap, so people that are in congress and stuff like that, they just don’t know what it’s like to walk in the shoes of somebody in the poverty level.”

Carrington said that with the rising cost of goods, living day to day is becoming more difficult.

“You can imagine what you would do to feed your kids. People who are hungry will do almost anything to make their family secure,” she said. “You need water, you need food, and you need shelter. Without those things, you can’t provide a healthy lifestyle for your kids. So I can’t slap the hand of somebody who goes to Walmart and steals a loaf of bread to feed their kids, you know?”

While the result of losing the extra SNAP benefits are already being felt by Casa de Peregrinos, Alba said that he expects a continuing influx of individuals in need throughout the summer and beyond.

Jonny Coker is a Multimedia Journalist for KRWG Public Media. He has lived in Southern New Mexico for most of his life, growing up in the small Village of Cloudcroft, and earning a degree in Journalism and Media Studies at New Mexico State University.