“Extraordinary!” “Unparalleled!” “Extremely generous.” This is how the leaders of some local nonprofits describe Santa Fe’s support for its charitable organizations, especially now that a global pandemic has forced them to rethink their operations. The support comes from individual donors and volunteers, foundations, local businesses, churches and civic groups, government programs and strong partnerships among the nonprofits themselves. Social distancing requirements and the heightened focus on individual safety have forced many of these organizations to eliminate essential in-person fundraising activities, and some have quit accepting non-monetary donations for the sake of safety. And even though at least one organization has temporarily stopped recruiting volunteers, there’s a critical need for healthy young volunteers who can deliver services face to face. While there isn’t room enough here to profile all of the deserving nonprofits in Santa Fe, we hope these brief snapshots add to your understanding of the current challenges facing these organizations and the growing needs they and other nonprofits fill during this public health crisis.
Cooking with Kids
Anna Farrier, executive director of Cooking with Kids, has a shout-out for the hardworking folks in the Santa Fe and Española Public Schools Student Nutrition Departments. “Early on in the pandemic, right after schools closed, they were feeding kids who otherwise would go without the school meals they depend on. It was a scary time for everyone, and the cafeteria staff were (are!) brave and selfless. They are truly unsung heroes,” she says. The organization she leads, now in its 25th year, focuses on giving children and families the knowledge they need to make healthy food choices. What started as an all-volunteer effort in two Santa Fe schools is now an integral part of more than a dozen Santa Fe and Rio Arriba County “school communities” that include supporters, educators, children, parent volunteers, and local chefs and farmers, according to the CWK’s 2019-2020 Annual Report. The organization prioritizes programming in schools where fifty percent or more of students qualify for free or reduced-priced school meals. “The demand and needs for CWK’s services have increased substantially in 2020. Our communities are faced with unparalleled challenges and children are in need of real solutions to the multi-layered issues of food access and security,” says Farrier. “Additionally, with the shift to remote learning, kids and schools need more support than ever. CWK is providing fun and meaningful virtual lessons during the school day and opportunities for family involvement — virtual family cooking nights, for example.”
Crisis calls are up and donations are down at Esperanza Shelter, which has provided emergency shelter to victims of domestic violence for four decades and now provides individual and group counseling, court advocacy and assistance with housing as well. A notice on Esperanza’s website — in bold, capital, red letters — alerts visitors to the fact that the crisis hotline remains open and that all other services continue via phone and secure video chat. “The only thing that has taken place is we offer services virtually now, but there’s been no change or interruption to the services we provide,” says Director of Development Marcos Zubia, formerly president of Esperanza’s board of directors. Though the organization has temporarily stopped recruiting volunteers, “the amount of support and time from our board and staff during this time has been tremendous,” he explains. Among the new challenges for the organization: donor exhaustion. “All nonprofits are facing the same challenges with COVID, and unfortunately a lot of donors have lost their jobs and the state of the economy is unknown. This makes it challenging for people to commit to making contributions to organizations.” Still, Zubia, a survivor of domestic abuse himself, is upbeat about the giving climate in Santa Fe. “Santa Fe is very generous and the outpouring for our agencies has been and continues to be one of the things that brings our community together and sets us apart.”
Feeding Santa Fe, Inc.
No questions asked. That’s the guiding principle of Feeding Santa Fe, Inc. “We just hand out bags of food to people — no questions asked. If you show up, we give you a bag of food,” President Michael Robison says of the all-volunteer organization that started in the late 1970s as a downtown food distribution program for the city’s hungry and needy. Before March, when pandemic countermeasures were enacted statewide, the organization typically handed out about 800 bags of food between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. every Thursday. Demand has increased almost threefold, and the organization is now distributing roughly 2,300 bags of food each week. Most of the food is acquired in bulk from The Food Depot, with support from individual cash donations, foundations, the Santa Fe faith community, and local governments and businesses. Reunity Resources, a community farm, has been supplying fresh produce. One of the greatest challenges for Feeding Santa Fe is the age of its “traditional” volunteers, some of whom have been with the organization since its inception. “Our volunteers are all seniors and at risk, and they’ve had to step back,” says the seventy-four-year-old Robison, who reluctantly retreated from hands-on activities this spring. He credits The Food Depot for stepping in and taking over food distribution since March. Through it all, there’s been no discussion of curtailing food donations. Says Robison, “That’s our job. That’s what we bought into.”
The Food Depot
With roughly a thirty-percent increase in demand this year, The Food Depot, Northern New Mexico’s food bank, is drawing from its disaster relief plan and has added services, primarily its Mobile Food Pantries, which provide food free of charge mostly to children and the elderly in the region’s rural communities. What it’s not doing, at least for now, is accepting donations of food, bags, boxes, pet food or diapers. “We made the decision early on to not accept physical donations of food and other supplies out of an abundance of caution for our staff, volunteers and people who receive food from us,” explains Director of Development Jill Dixon. “We have respectfully asked those who are able [to do so] to support us financially at this time. This has added additional logistics to our operations, incredibly important details to keep everyone involved as safe as possible.” Dixon says that the organization’s additional expenses this year have exceeded $1.3 million, but like other local nonprofits, The Food Depot has been hampered in its ability to hold in-person fundraising events and has moved these efforts online. “The list of our supporters is long, and we are grateful to each one. With the need to buy more food and supplies this year due to COVID-19, every donation small and large makes a difference.”
Interfaith Community Shelter at Pete’s Place
Providing shelter for the homeless during a pandemic means distancing them from one another to keep them healthy. That requires more space and more volunteers. While plans for a new women’s shelter are temporarily on hold, both men and women are housed at the Cerrillos Road location. The Interfaith Community Shelter at Pete’s Place also makes rooms available at the nearby GreenTree Inn to people who are “mostly over sixty, medically fragile, and clean and sober,” according to Executive Director Joseph Jordan-Berenis. Others have been referred to Santa Fe’s Midtown Campus on St. Michael’s Drive for COVID testing and isolation. “The goal was to reduce the number of guests in our building so we could maintain the appropriate social distancing and keep everyone safe.” Like other restaurants that were forced to close down indoor dining, the shelter’s Day Services Program now distributes boxed lunches. Despite “more than generous” community support, the biggest concern is a dwindling volunteer base. “Pre-COVID, we operated with the assistance of approximately 2,000 active volunteers,” explains Jordan-Berenis. “However, many of the volunteers are older or have someone at home who is medically fragile. As a result, we lost most of our volunteers for completely understandable reasons.” The organization is looking for volunteers to prepare, cook and serve dinner at the winter shelter, which is scheduled to re-open this month. “This winter, we are looking to keep all the volunteers engaged, on their own terms.”
Kitchen Angels prepares and delivers free, nutritious meals to Northern New Mexicans who are homebound and facing life-challenging illnesses and conditions. So far this year, the organization has been able to keep up with the increased demand for its services, but “by necessity, our intake and delivery processes have been adapted to COVID-safe practices,” says Executive Director Tony McCarty. He explains that Kitchen Angels historically receives thirty percent of its individual gifts during November and December, and adds, “We’re hoping for a big finish to a very strange year.” While cash donations are key, McCarty encourages everyone to volunteer, especially with any of the programs that have been designated as essential services. “We’ve lost much of our sense of community because of the pandemic. Every one of us must make an effort to show added kindness to each other if we want to rebuild our lost connections. Volunteering is a perfect way to get started.” He relates the tale of “a wonderful young couple” who volunteered during the early months of the pandemic. “They were home from college and gave generously of both time and talents, enthusiastically taking on any task we needed them to do,” he explains. “Two months into their service, we received a $10,000 gift from their family foundation. We later learned that their parents are great friends with one of our founders who made the connection when she learned they were volunteering. Sometimes ours is a small yet wonderful world.”
Unlike earlier times when young families had secure, multigenerational support, many new parents today don’t have access to the same level of assistance. That’s where Many Mothers comes in. The organization provides physical, emotional and practical support to any family following the birth or adoption of a new baby. The need for such support has grown “monumentally” in 2020, says Executive Director Antoinette Villamil, who adds, “We desperately need new volunteers who are healthy and willing to go into families’ homes. The number of referrals we receive has tripled in the past several months, and many of the families have complex needs that border on crises. To complicate this further, it’s difficult for our staff to keep up, particularly because we are all mothers with toddlers or school-age children at home. We are in dire need of additional funding so we can hire enough staff to help manage our expanding programs. With so many families recently in crisis, our staff is simply overwhelmed.” Even in light of these challenges, it’s the success stories that matter most. Villamil describes one young mother who along with her nine-month-old faced homelessness. Several church groups came forward with the funds for a deposit on an apartment and rent, while multiple individuals connected with the parenting group Raising Santa Fe donated just about everything needed for the young mother to get started in her new home. “Our community keeps proving its ability to uplift struggling families, and bright spots such as these keep our staff going.”
Gerard’s House fills a unique niche by providing essential services to grieving children and families. So that it can focus solely on its mission during these especially difficult times, a group of funding organizations, including the Santa Fe Community Foundation, has partnered with Gerard’s House to relieve it of the demands of grant writing. Co-Executive Director Nicole Maes-Gonzales explains, “What this means for us is that instead of writing five different grant applications and providing four different quarterly reports, we now only write one grant application and provide one report twice a year.” Gerard’s House currently delivers most of its services online, and its Nuestra Jornada program addresses many barriers faced by grieving immigrant families, who are disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. Like others interviewed for this article, Maes-Gonzales expressed extreme appreciation for the many donors, organizations and volunteers who have rallied behind Gerard’s House in these uncertain times. The demand for services, including meeting basic needs, has tripled the organization’s caseload, and the support it provides is more relevant now than ever. “One of the impacts of COVID-19 is that humanity is facing death and grief collectively. In our culture, we avoid both subjects. Death is taboo to talk about . . .and grief, as a healing process, is not well understood — more often dreaded than welcomed,” she explains. “But whether it is our own grief or someone else’s, we all have the power within us to handle grief and loss with compassion, courage and wisdom. Whether your losses are recent or happened long ago, Gerard’s House is here for you.”
Kathy Haq is a Master Gardener and a Santa Fe Botanical Garden member-volunteer. She has lived in Santa Fe nearly two decades, having fairly recently returned to New Mexico after living on the Southern California coast for many years. A former daily newspaper reporter with an MBA from the University of New Mexico, she is retired from the University of California.