Programs & Services
Description of Casa de Peregrinos major programs and services
Casa de Peregrinos serves as program providing supplemental nutritional groceries to hungry and food insecure families in Las Cruces and Dona Ana County, augmenting government programs such as the Women, Infant and Children’s (WIC) food program, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Most clients are eligible for one distribution per month, a basket made up of the products that Casa de Peregrinos has on hand. Client eligibility is established by client self-declaration of income to the New Mexico Emergency Food Assistance Program Guidelines for the Las Cruces MSA. Clients who receive WIC or SNAP automatically qualify.
Recognizing that food insecurity does not have a one-size-fits-all solution, Casa de Peregrinos continually strives to develop targeted programs to address the unique needs of different populations affected by food insecurity (i.e., the homeless, school-aged children during summer vacations, rural populations, seniors, and others). Casa de Peregrinos has numerous programs that address the specific needs of food insecure families all over Dona Ana County.
FOOD SECURITY PROGRAM:
The Food Security Program is the flagship program in the Las Cruces pantry. It has been providing food to families in Dona Ana County since 1979. Families are eligible to receive one distribution of food per month. Food distributions average of 80 pounds. In the past several years, Casa de Peregrinos has made strides to improve the nutritional value of its food box distributions. We have added more fresh produce that includes apples, oranges, potatoes, onions, zucchini, tomatoes and other seasonal vegetables when available. We also provide protein including cheese, meats and fresh eggs, and essential staples like dried beans, pasta and rice, as well as canned goods and bakery items in every distribution. During the 2016 program year, the Food Security Program provided 16,245 distributions, and served a total of 16,500 unduplicated clients.
THE CHILDREN’S SUMMER PROGRAM
In 2009, Casa de Peregrinos created The Children’s Summer Program as a companion to the Food Security Program. It operates between May 15 and August 15 each year. During that period of time, when school is not in session, eligible families with school age children can receive a second monthly distribution of groceries: canned goods, staples, good sources of protein, and fruit and vegetables in season. This is specifically designed to address the increased needs of families with school age children during the times when school is not in session, and children no longer have access to free/reduced school breakfast and lunch programs.
As 70% of the students in Dona Ana County are eligible for the free and reduced breakfast and lunch programs through the local schools, and, in some districts this number reaches 95%,the Children’s Summer Program fills an important niche in the lives of low income families in our communities. In 2016, 482 families, including 1,807 children, benefited from the Children’s Summer Program, with 753 distributions made.
THE RURAL FOOD INITIATIVE
The Rural Food Initiative began in May 2011, to provide emergency food resources by operating mobile food pantries for families in the county’s rural areas, specifically those in or near the county’s 37 colonias. The sites for the 13 original mobile food pantries were selected based primarily upon two factors – the lack of public transportation to and from Las Cruces, and knowledge that those areas truly are a food desert – areas where there is little to no access to stores to purchase food, or when there are stores, they tend to be convenience stores where the food selection is limited, prices can be prohibitively high, and fresh food choices are virtually non-existent.
Each community receives its allotment on a regular day of each month (i.e., first Monday, fourth Thursday). On the scheduled distribution dates, food is delivered directly to each rural site. Casa de Peregrinos staff, along with volunteers, set up registration desks for new and returning clients, accessing the main data base at Casa de Peregrinos to assure client eligibility. (Each client is eligible for a food distribution once per month. If a client has received a distribution at another one of Casa de Peregrino’s sites within the last 30 days, this information will show up at registration.
THE HOMELESS PROGRAM
An increasing number of families Casa de Peregrinos serves are homeless or in transitional housing. For them, a traditional food basket with staples such as rice and beans would be of little help, and without access to refrigeration, spoilage is a big issue. As well, homeless clients rarely have storage for one month's worth of food. In response to this combination of unique needs, a program for homeless clients was developed by CdP, providing foods that need little preparation or cold storage.
Homeless clients are eligible for either weekly or bi-weekly food distributions depending upon their financial circumstances, and receive items such as packaged meat, peanut butter, crackers, energy bars, snacks, cans with easy-open tops, juices and other drinks, and small quantities of baked goods and produce. In 2016, CdP made a total of 1522 homeless distributions, for an average of 126 per month. This is over 10% of the total client base for CdP. Another 40 clients living in transitional housing are also served each month by the program, primarily veterans and women transitioning from prison.
CdP is not the only source of food for homeless clients and families in Las Cruces: hot meals are provided by three other organizations. However, the products provided by CdP to homeless clients fill a unique niche in the spectrum of food services for the homeless. CdP’s services are distinctive in that they provide the foodstuffs for homeless clients that they can consume as needed, not just while they are on site at a meal service. Having food available throughout the day is a critical element of basic nutrition, which, in turn, helps maintain the energy and mental acuity to continue the complicated process of obtaining permanent housing and exiting homelessness.
THE SENIOR PROGRAM
While the number of seniors served by the Rural Food Initiative in the colonias in Dona Ana County averages 28%, the number of seniors served in the Las Cruces Pantry has been much lower: an average of 10%, or, just over one third of those in rural areas. As the State of New Mexico qualifies over 1,700 low income seniors for its Commodity Supplemental Food Program in Dona Ana County, it became clear to CdP that many seniors were not accessing the services provided by Casa de Peregrinos at the central Las Cruces Pantry.
Anecdotal data indicates that the Las Cruces Pantry for Casa de Peregrinos, located in the Community of Hope, can provide serious transportation challenges to seniors: if they are arriving by bus, the stop is nearly two full blocks away from the pantry, a walk which may be difficult for seniors, and can be exacerbated by weather and by carrying groceries.
In Las Cruces, five senior centers are run by the City of Las Cruces. They serve a total of about 1,600 seniors, providing coordination with other services, meals, and social activities. In May of 2016, CdP approached the city’s Senior Program about the possibility of distributing emergency food to clients at their centers.
As Casa de Peregrinos already has expertise in the implementation of Mobile Food Pantries, having conducted 13 Mobile Food Pantries in the colonias of Dona Ana County for almost five years, the Senior Centers recognized this as an opportunity to expand services and bring food to needy seniors. CdP launched its first Mobile Food Pantry at the Munson Senior Center in September of 2016 and brought the program to all five by December 2016. This venture brings a monthly distribution of nutritious supplemental groceries to eligible seniors in a venue where they have already transportation arranged.
FOOD RESCUE PROGRAM
The Food Rescue Program is an initiative begun in 2014. In collaboration with retail grocers, the Food Rescue Program collects food that has passed its “sell-by” date, which would have been destined for the landfill, and distributes it to low income families in Dona Ana County. In 2015, the Food Rescue Program was responsible for generating over 424,000 pounds of food, in 2016, this number grew to 719,000 pounds, worth over $1,236,000. Food rescue has been conducted by many large food banks, but this is the only the second large scale food rescue in New Mexico, and the only one in Dona Ana County.
CdP is deeply committed to changing the health of the residents of Dona Ana County by providing improved nutrition and the Food Rescue Program is an important way to do so. Food rescue represents a fundamental shift in the approach to feeding the hungry, which has traditionally relied upon soliciting grant dollars to purchase food, relying upon government commodities, or organizing community food drives. It maximizes the use of scarce grant dollars, leveraging resources through enhanced coordination and multisector collaborations and fills a critical gap in the products that CdP can provide.
While commodities and food drives generate canned goods and some other non-perishable products, the Food Rescue Program generates meat, dairy, produce and bread, enhancing both the quantity and nutritional value of the 27,000 food distributions made by the pantry each year. It also helps keep food out of the landfills, which, as it is estimated that 40% of the food in America goes to waste, is an important byproduct of the initiative.
Other Casa de Peregrinos projects, smaller in scale, include:
THE THANKSGIVING PROGRAM
Holidays can be stressful and difficult for low income families, and those facing a financial emergency such as lost jobs, foreclosure or medical emergencies. The pressure on families to provide an abundant and festive celebration with gifts and fancy meals comes from all sides: media, advertisements, news stories, and social interactions. However, the reality is that many low income families might not be choosing between ham and turkey for their holiday meal – they might be choosing between paying utilities and repairing the only vehicle that can get them to a job. In these circumstances, providing a holiday meal and presents for children can present an unsurmountable challenge.
One of the elements of the Food Security Program that is most cherished and appreciated by clients is the Thanksgiving Food Basket. With substantial community support, Casa de Peregrinos has been able to distribute a basket with a turkey, stuffing, vegetables and pie to client families. "Turkey Drives" are conducted across the community, and we have been successful in organizing the donation of over 1,000 turkeys. In 2016, Casa de Peregrinos joined with the La Casa domestic violence program and El Caldito, which also provide a Thanksgiving meal or food basket for clients in order to streamline the process of soliciting and distributing meals.
LUCHA FOR HOPE
The Homeless Program also includes a monthly hot meal through the initiative of the owners of the Luchador Food Truck, who suggested a collaboration to provide a meal to the homeless and hungry. Luchador schedules one evening per month for the feed, which varies based on their catering schedules. Casa de Peregrinos purchases the food, based on a joint decision about the menu for the evening (which can vary from red enchiladas, rice and beans, to marinated pork chops, grilled asparagus and garlic mashed potatoes), as it has the ability to purchase food more inexpensively than Luchador. Lucha 4 Hope serves between 100 and 150 clients each month. It is advertised approximately one week prior to the event solely through word of mouth, primarily throughout the Union Gospel Mission and the Community of Hope agencies: Community of Hope, Tent City, Jardin de Ninos, CdP, El Caldito, and St Lukes Medical Clinic. There is no cost to clients for this meal.
Food insecurity is common at colleges and universities across the country, potentially undermining the educational success of untold thousands of students. In 2016, a study was released indicating that as much as 48% of college students report food insecurity, a number which is higher among minority students. It also reported that, of the food insecure students in the study, 32 percent believed that hunger or housing problems had an impact on their education. These students reported a range of consequences: not being able to purchase textbooks, or missing or dropping a class. In response, Casa de Peregrinos has opened two mobile pantries at the Dona Ana Community College campuses in Las Cruces, with a third opening on the NMSU campus in April. Each operates once per month, and primarily serves students and staff on those campuses.