by M. Elwell Romancito, Taos News

Considering statistics say one in every five New Mexico families lives in poverty, it’s possible to wrap our heads around the idea that someone we know is going hungry or isn’t sure where their next meal is coming from.

To put a dent in that hunger in our community, the ninth annual Empty Bowls Fundraiser for the St. James Food Pantry is Saturday (April 30), noon-2 p.m. at St. James Episcopal Church, 208 Camino de Santiago. Tickets are $25, and all of the money raised will benefit the food pantry.

The $25 ticket includes a ceramic bowl of your choice. The bowls are donated by many local potters, including Taos Clay, Brandi Jessup, John Hutson, Betsy Williams and Georgia Neumann. Over the years, people who have attended the fundraiser are proud of the bowls in their collection and look forward to adding to their collection by attending each year.

Served in the beautiful, handmade bowls is a light lunch. Homemade soup, fresh bread and many special desserts are served on the side. All of the food is donated by local grocery stores, restaurants and caterers. Guests will also have the opportunity to bid on a wonderful, curated collection of silent auction items, all donated by local craftspeople, artists, merchants, service providers and restaurants.

It’s possible to understand the idea of hunger, but unless you have actually experienced the raw reality of desperate and persistent hunger, it sometimes stays an intellectual concept and not something we act on. Maybe that’s why so many people who have been hungry and received food from the pantry feel compelled to volunteer for it on bagging or distribution day.

Empty Bowls Project Chair Heather Liebman said, “I think that on that intellectual level, we know about hunger, but it’s hard to really get it unless you’ve been hungry. It was not until I started working on this project that I saw the actual numbers of the hungry, and it really came home to me.”

The Open Pantry food distribution is something to witness. Beginning long before noon on Thursdays, cars of all makes, years and models begin to fill the parking lot of the St. James Episcopal Church. When the doors are finally opened and the bags of food are handed out, the place is a flurry of activity with volunteers and recipients alike. There is no sign-up form to fill out for food. One doesn’t have to prove their need in any way, and there is no judgment of the people who are in line.

According to the Working Poor Families Project, more than 24 million children across the country live in working poor families. According to the latest Kids Count report produced by Voices for Children, our state’s child poverty rate has been going up since the recession hit the United States seven years ago, and the level is not improving. And according to a report by Feeding America, a nonprofit umbrella organization for 200 U.S. food banks, New Mexico is the worst state for child hunger.

The Food Depot in Santa Fe helps. The nonprofit has been feeding people in nine counties of New Mexico since 1995. The organization solicits surplus food from a variety of sources and redistributes it to more than 100 local nonprofit agencies that, in turn, provide it to people in need.

The Empty Bowls Project is actually a nationwide grassroots movement to help end hunger, now in its 26th year.

“Here in Taos, the Empty Bowls event raises one-third of our annual budget. We do get donations throughout the year, but this is the major fundraiser,” Liebman added. This year will be the ninth year of the local event.

“Fifty percent of the seniors in Taos County need help — and not just with food. These are not lay-about people. Some work two and three jobs and still can’t keep themselves fed. And then there’s the people that can’t find work,” Liebman said.

Food Pantry Chair Marilyn Farrow is in charge of the weekly food distribution at St. James. On distribution day, she acts as a traffic director for the dozens of volunteers. The operation is impressive, and everyone seems to know where they are needed. Large bags of food have already been divided up into smaller portions by teams of workers in the days before. Distribution time is lively, yet efficient.

“In the Taos area we help 400-450 families each week, which puts food on the table for about 1200 people. Sadly, the numbers continue to grow. Empty Bowls Project is our major fundraising event of the year.

This enables us to purchase food from Food Depot, a regional food bank in Santa Fe, and Super Save. Local Farm Share farmers donate fresh produce in summer. We have no overhead expenses, and work is done by volunteers so every penny raised goes to the Food Pantry,” Farrow said in a prepared statement.

“The hunger realities in New Mexico are staggering and Taos County is in the top four hungriest counties in the state. In fact, New Mexico is fourth worst in the nation for child hunger. Thirty percent of those fed are under the age of 17. Furthermore, half of the households with seniors do not have enough food. Thirty-two percent of those fed at St. James are seniors. This is just an abbreviated list of the hungry in our area, but you can see how important it is for us to be able to continue this work,” Farrow added.

The St. James Food Pantry is open each Thursday from noon until 4 p.m.

Tickets for the Empty Bowls event are available online at, in the church office Mondays through Thursdays from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m., or at the door at the event. For more information, call (575) 758-2790.

In addition …

El Pueblito Church in El Prado also conducts the Shared Table Food Pantry.

“Long before El Pueblito Methodist Church was a house of worship, this was a community gathering place or a kitchen for the hungry, it was a cafe and a bar. The altar where Pastor Steve Wiard now addresses the church’s small congregations once housed gas pumps,” an online profile reads.

El Pueblito is located at 1309 Paseo del Pueblo Norte in El Prado. For details on food distribution, call (575) 758-3166.

Copyright 2016, Taos News