Even before COVID-19, food insecurity was a problem addressed by many local organizations, but the need for these services has increased with job layoffs, making it even harder for food pantries to stay stocked. Food supply shortages, along with the increase in demand, caused New Mexico State University’s Aggie Cupboard to start their shorter summer hours earlier this year in order to keep up their food supply. Meg Long, program specialist for NMSU social services and Aggie Cupboard, has made necessary changes to the distribution methods to keep their clients and volunteers safe and healthy. “We have also reduced the amount of information required for students, faculty, and staff to expedite the process of picking up food,” said Meg. Despite minor food shortages, they are still distributing food once a week thanks to donations and assistance from the community and local businesses such as Matteo’s Mexican Food, Sodexo, Marci Dickerson of The Game, Casa de Peregrinos, The Print Guys, Cervantes Enterprises Inc., and many more. “It has been so important for us to be able to keep feeding our clients,” said Meg. “The community has gone above and beyond, so we feel very, very grateful for that.”
Aggie Cupboard is accepting donations of non-perishables between 1 and 3 p.m. and distributing food bags between 3 and 6 p.m. every Thursday. “My volunteers have just been phenomenal with continuing to help out in the heat and making sure everyone gets what they need,” Meg added. Local nonprofit emergency food program Casa de Peregrinos (CdP) was one of the businesses that assisted Aggie Cupboard in securing more food for their clients. “We wanted to partner up so that they would have more food available to them. Bottom line is we want to make sure that the students, staff, and faculty at the university have this available resource to them all the time, not just once in a while,” says CdP Executive Director Lorenzo Alba, Jr. They also paired up with Aggie Cupboard in early 2019 to provide a monthly mobile food pantry that distributes perishable food items to the Las Cruces community. CdP serves citizens in Las Cruces and Doña Ana County through programs such as student pantries, Lucha 4 Hope (that feeds the homeless), the Rural Food Initiative, and senior programs. Their distribution methods have also changed to keep everyone safe and socially distanced.
“We changed the operation drastically,” said Lorenzo. “We are no longer allowing people to enter the facility. Instead, they have to wait outside. We have very few volunteers. We are doing verbal signin and we have a window for separation. Our volunteers fill a cart up with items, take it to the clients, and then they are immediately disinfected. Everyone is wearing masks and gloves and practicing frequent hand-washing. We are also taking the temperatures of the workers, volunteers, and vendors.” Since the outbreak of COVID-19, CdP has seen a 38 percent increase in assistance requests. Normally they operate under Temporary Emergency Food Assistance Program commodities guidelines and have to get a declaration of income from the client, but they are currently easing their regulations and supporting more people. Those in need can come by and pick up food with a proof of address. “The whole goal is to keep everyone fed especially during this crisis,” said Lorenzo. “It’s going to be a while before anything changes with this, so we have adjusted, and we are ready to go.” One dollar buys six meals for a family. To donate, go on their website, casadeperegrinos.org/main/programs.
In addition to nutrition, fitness was one of those things people were missing when gyms were closed. Those who worked out before quarantine started getting creative to be able to continue their fitness journey. Pre-pandemic, New Mexico State University’s Activities Center provided many different fitness classes that could be used by students and members of AggieFit. While gyms were closed, AggieFit began offering free online fitness classes via Zoom to the whole community, regardless of student status or AggieFit membership, something they plan to continue. All you need to do is log on and get physical. Classes that are currently being offered include yoga and aerobic classes such as HIIT, cardio, and core strength, which make up 22 classes taught by six instructors.
“In regards to physical health and people’s mental health, it is important to continue a little bit of normalcy in regards to patrons who used our services before we closed our doors,” said Amanda Blair, Aggie Health and Wellness Center assistant director. Although there are numerous free online workouts that are available on multiple platforms such as YouTube and Instagram, Amanda believes personal connections are essential. “It’s important for our participants who know our instructors and regularly come to the classes,” said Amanda. “I think it is still important for them to communicate in different avenues. You lose a sense of connection when it is pre-recorded.” All skill levels are welcome to all of the online classes. Instructors are encouraged to log on to the class early to address questions and give a brief introduction on how the class will feel throughout the practice whether it be yoga or aerobics. “They are asked to offer modifications and limitations based on skill level and to teach at all levels whether it be beginner, immediate, or advanced,” said Amanda. Class schedules can be found on the NMSU Recreation website, recsports.nmsu.edu.
Nutrition and fitness are major keys to stable mental health, but social interaction is just as important. Currently, in-person social interaction is the number one item on the “do not do” list. Those who are struggling with it the most are often those in assisted living facilities who are now confined to their rooms without visitors. Carolyn Scott has been a volunteer at the
memory facility at the Village at Northrise since 2017. Carolyn’s mother suffered from dementia and was a resident there, which was her driving force to start volunteering. When the facility stopped accepting volunteers and visitors due to COVID-19, Bonnie Zeiler, local committee chairman for the Walk to End Alzheimer’s and Village at Northrise program director, suggested to Carolyn during a virtual meeting that they should do the same thing at the memory facility. Carolyn immediately said, “I’m on it.”
She now meets virtually three times a week visiting five residents per day. She will ask them how they are doing, talk about the weather, and sometimes even read a poem or section of a book. “They love it and it warms my heart. I just get a kick out of it,” says Carolyn. She is able to communicate with the residents through an iPad and a video conferencing website called bluejeans.com. Carolyn gives the staff members and nurses most of the credit and always makes it a point to thank them between resident visits. She plans to continue volunteering virtually until it is safe for her to visit in person.
As restrictions ease and more people ease out into the community, folks still need to take the necessary precautions to stay safe. Hand sanitizer and face masks are hot commodities these days and when people come across them, they often stock up. To help alleviate the shortage of these products, many local businesses have changed their business models to use their resources to produce such high-demand products. Dry Point Distillers has changed some operations from distilling liquor to hand sanitizer. “Once the federal government came out with a recipe that didn’t have to be pre-approved, I started ordering the ingredients and everything. There was an expectation from the community that we would do that and of course, we want to help out,” said owner Chris Schaefer. Even before they started making sanitizer, they were getting requests from hospitals, police departments, and clinics. They have been working to fill as many orders as possible but have had to limit how much each person and business is allowed to get so that there is enough for everyone. “It’s a global misery we are all in and we all have to do our parts to maintain communal health and thankfully I have not had to turn away a single person,” said Chris. Dry Point is open for bottle and hand sanitizer sales weekdays from 12 to 4 p.m. and weekends from noon to 2 p.m. Call 575-652-3414 to make sure they are open or stop by, 1680 Calle de Alvarez, during store hours.
When it comes to masks, many citizens are making patterns and sewing masks for the community. One is Alice Davenport, owner of Moonbow Alterations. When restrictions were put into place, Alice had to close her store. Since she is talented at sewing and has so much fabric, she decided she would start making masks. She has currently sewn more than 5,000 masks and counting, with occasional help from others, that have gone to hospitals, caregivers, and anyone who needs them. “We are all brothers and sisters and we need to take care of each other. Regardless of what I am doing, I am helping people. If I can’t make a living right now, I might as well be doing something that is useful to someone,” said Alice. To get masks, call Moonbow Alterations at 575-527-1411.
Las Cruces mother and daughter Karla and Lesley Martinez also saw the need for masks and decided to start making them, but with a twist. Their masks are specially designed to benefit those who have loved ones who are deaf or hard of hearing and depend on reading lips to communicate. Traditional opaque facemasks make it difficult for them to read lips and effectively communicate with those around them. Lesley got the idea from a story she read online about a deafmute person who was looking for masks that would allow them to read lips. She showed the story to her mom. Karla wanted to find a way to help, so she looked on YouTube for ideas and created her own pattern. “I always use the phrase: whoever does not live to serve, does not serve to live, and to have empathy is to see the needs of all, not only their own, and to help them with everything that is in our hands,” said Karla. She had just purchased a used sewing machine to make clothes for her daughter a week before quarantine was implemented. She has orders for more than 300 masks from schools, clinics, and local stores.
“The response has been much more than I expected,” says Karla. Every time Karla uses the mask in a store, people tell her that they love it and that it is nice to see her smile. She is giving the masks away so that everyone who needs it is able to get one, but she is accepting donations that will help purchase more supplies. She is working as fast as she can to get orders fulfilled, along with the help of her husband and children when they have time. “I want to thank my family, friends, and strangers who have offered their selfless help and donations. Above all I thank God for allowing me to be useful to others,” said Karla. She currently has a waiting list but if you are interested in her masks you can message or call her 575-449-0872 (Spanish) or 575-449-0874 (English).
Written by Olivia Belcher • Courtesy photos
Originally published in Neighbors magazine | July-August 2020
Posted by LasCruces.com