The Las Cruces City Council is supporting an expansion of the Casa de Peregrinos food program, authorizing $3.75 million to help with warehouse restoration efforts.
Money for the project will come directly out of the city’s Telshor Fund, which accumulated approximately $11.2 million in interest during fiscal year 2021. In addition, $3.9 million in legislative grant funding will also help cover the estimated $7 million project cost.
City Housing and Neighborhood Services Manager Natalie Green says the project will add additional freezer and refrigerator space as well as storage for dry goods. Beyond that, plans include the installation of a demonstration kitchen as well as new programming efforts.
“The new programming at the facility would include a homebound delivery program for seniors and clients with disabilities,” Green said. “And then my favorite is the food pharmacy. So, physicians can prescribe or refer clients who are newly diagnosed with metabolic disorders, like diabetes or hypertension, and they can come learn about better food choices and then have access to that programming.”
The new warehouse space, formerly the site of Horse N Hound Feed N Supply, sits directly next to the current Casa de Peregrinos location on the Mesilla Valley Community of Hope campus.
In 2020, Casa de Peregrinos distributed over 4.7 million pounds of food, more than nine times over the designed capacity. Casa de Peregrinos Executive Director Lorenzo Alba Jr. says a partnership between the food pantry and the city of Las Cruces will be beneficial for the entire community.
“This isn’t solely a Casa de Peregrinos project or a city of Las Cruces Project. This is in fact a community project,” Alba said. “It's going to benefit this community that so badly needs this. It's going to allow us to be innovative and allow us to share that same vision that the city is developing with doing something about what's going on with poverty in our community.”
At 26%, New Mexico has one of the worst rates in the nation for child food insecurity. For children in Doña Ana County, the city’s Natalie Green says the situation is even more extreme.
“In Doña Ana County, we have a post-COVID estimate of childhood food insecurity that is 29%,” Green said. “And our childhood poverty rate is as high as 41% in the county.”
During the meeting, the council also approved a $350,000 community development block grant agreement to help provide gap funding for the restoration. Councilor Tessa Abeyta-Stuve voiced her support, emphasizing a need to continually address hunger within the city.
“We need this type of programming in our community. It's something that we don't want to have to need, but we do,” Abeyta-Stuve said. “And I hope that we can get this project on its way as soon as possible so we can be providing more services for the community.”
Natalie Green, the city’s housing and neighborhood services manager, says the project aligns well with the city council’s strategic plan to become a food-secure community.
“It would develop and support programs that provide assistance to our traditionally underserved populations,” Green said. “And it would help transform Las Cruces into a food secure community with improved access to healthy food options.”
The city is currently working to finalize project plans and aims for construction to start during the second half of this fiscal year.