Chama Food Pantry

Laura White, Mike Fleener, Arturo Baeza, Jack Wyatt and Arian Robbins arrange food outdoors in preparation for a food distribution at First Baptist Church, Chama. The distribution is part of the church’s ongoing food pantry ministry. Recipients will drive through the church’s parking lot to receive food boxes. The “touchless” approach helps the ministry observe COVID-19 restrictions.  

CHAMA (BNM) - Mission New Mexico connects a northern New Mexico church with hundreds of families. The number has recently increased. After a recent distribution, almost all of the food was gone. Some basic items had entirely run out.

On food distribution day at First Baptist Church, Chama, cars are already lined up “way down the street and around the corner” at 8:30 a.m., according to Laura White. The food pantry officially opens at 10 a.m. If everything is ready, they open as early as 9:30 a.m. White is the ministry’s manager and the pastor’s wife. They work together to operate the pantry with the help of volunteers from the church and community. Mission New Mexico makes the ministry possible.

Since COVID-19 began, the number of people who come has increased. One Saturday, they distributed 170 units of food. In August, the ministry helped 287 families in the northern, central mountains of New Mexico. The city lies approximately eight miles south of the state line.

White said the community is “grateful” for the pantry’s ministry. “They tell us over and over how they appreciate us,” White said. “Even those who don’t use it know about it and encourage us.” She said, “More and more people are asking Tim for prayer.” Tim is the pastor, her husband. The Mission New Mexico State Missions Offering Hunger Funds support the church’s food pantry ministry. The Rotary Club of Chama and the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad also assist the ministry.

The Chama pantry opens two hours for distribution on the 1st and 3rd Saturdays of the month. A United States Department of Agriculture food program supplies food for one Saturday. Food for the other Saturday comes from Food Depot, Santa Fe. Both suppliers truck in the food. On delivery day, 10-12 volunteers help move food inside the church and make food boxes for distribution. Distribution day requires about 16 volunteers. They process recipients, load boxes in cars and make more boxes of food.

Since COVID-19 struck, the church has had less interaction with people. Recipients stay in their cars through registration and loading food in their vehicles. Still, some ask for the pastor and ask for prayer. Food boxes include canned goods, cereal, potatoes, fruit, corn, milk, meat, fresh produce and more. The week the Baptist New Mexican talked with White, they ran out of milk, meat and potatoes. “We had hardly anything left over,” White said. They store leftovers for the next distribution. Nothing is wasted.

Sometimes, the church gives out free materials. Because some food comes from federal sources, the church cannot place materials inside the boxes. Instead, they set it out for people to take. “They like our Sunday School literature,” White explained. The church offers recipients its used Explore the Bible Bible-study books from LifeWay. White said they seem to enjoy it.

In the past, the pantry has operated from inside the building. After COVID-19 moved distribution into the parking lot, White and her husband are considering keeping the operation outside. With the growth, “the fellowship hall is so full of food, there’s no room for people to come in,” she said. Mission New Mexico helps to buy food. It has also helped the church widen the fellowship hall door to facilitate moving food in and out. As well, the funds help the church pay the extra electricity for two commercial freezers, two chest freezers, and two commercial refrigerators.

Kevin Parker is editor of the Baptist New Mexican news journal and, news and information outlets for the Baptist Convention of New Mexico.

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