Justin Schatz is The Paper's daily news reporter. He has reported on New Mexico for KRQE News, Searchlight NM and the Santa Fe Reporter.

Despite federal pandemic unemployment ending, and an economy that is slowly opening, the Roadrunner Food Bank of New Mexico is still seeing higher levels of need since the pandemic started. According to Roadrunner, one in four children face hunger in New Mexico and one in six New Mexicans face food insecurity. That is an increase from one in five children prior to the pandemic and one in seven New Mexicans.

Roadrunner’s director of communications and events, Sonya Warwick, noted that the slow recovery in food security for many New Mexicans is due to the lingering economic toll of the pandemic, especially in rural areas.

“Rural communities are hit the hardest because a lot of those places closed. We’ve started 49 new food distribution points since the pandemic in seven counties, including Bernalillo County,” Warwick said. “With those new distribution points, we distributed an additional four million pounds of food, which is about 3.4 million meals,” she said. “We ended our most recent fiscal year on July 1 and we distributed almost 60 million pounds of food, and our normal distribution is 49 million pounds of food.”

Roadrunner continues to provide food and services through modified operations to keep both their employees and patrons safe. “Twenty percent of our network closed because they didn’t feel like they could distribute food in a safe way. We’ve tried to do a lot of training and coordination with them to keep as many locations open. We serve 16 counties directly across the state.”

According to Warwick, the slow recovery regarding food security is not just a New Mexico problem. “The COVID-19 pandemic brought hunger to the forefront of the public conscious. Every food bank in the national Feeding America nationwide network reported seeing more people turning to them for help. A new Charitable Food Assistance Participation estimate, issued by Feeding America, shows that at least 60 million people turned to the charitable food sector—food banks, food pantries, and other private food assistance programs—for help in 2020.”

With uncertainty accompanying the Delta surge, food pantries like Roadrunner Food Bank will continue to play a vital role. “We anticipate it will take a much longer period of time to recover from this crises because New Mexico has such a high poverty rate to begin with,” Warwick said.

If you’d like to make a donation or volunteer for Roadrunner Food Bank, please visit their website at https://www.rrfb.org