Meg Long, director of Aggie Cupboard at New Mexico State University, unloads a recent food donation. The on-campus food pantry has seen a two-fold increase in clientele since concerns over COVID-19 started escalating in early March. | NMSU photo by Minerva Baumann
In the days and weeks since COVID-19 became a worldwide pandemic, empty grocery store shelves have become an all-too-common sight.
But New Mexico State University’s on-campus food pantry, Aggie Cupboard, is working to ensure students, staff and faculty facing food insecurity have access to pantry staples during this time of crisis.
Aggie Cupboard, founded in 2012 on a mission to provide free supplementary food assistance to community members attending or working at NMSU and Doña Ana Community College, has experienced a two-fold increase in clientele since concerns over COVID-19 started escalating earlier this month, said Aggie Cupboard Director Meg Long.
During the week of March 15, Aggie Cupboard volunteers distributed approximately 2,483 pounds of nonperishable food items to 191 clients, said Long, who noted that she sees an average of 70 to 80 clients per week during a typical spring semester.
“So, we had more than double the amount of clients last week,” she said, “and every food box has roughly 13 pounds in it.”
The rapid rise in clients prompted Long to reduce pick-up hours starting March 23, a measure aimed to help maintain Aggie Cupboard’s food supplies in the weeks to come. She also changed distribution procedures to align with guidelines from the New Mexico Department of Health.
“I needed to restrict the hours to our summer hours,” she said, “just to make the food last a little bit longer as we’re having difficulty securing our food orders right now.”
For the time being, Aggie Cupboard clients may only pick up food boxes – containing a mix of items such as canned goods, pasta, peanut butter, dry beans and rice – between 3 and 6 p.m. Thursdays, Long said. They need only bring their NMSU Banner ID numbers and comply with newly implemented social-distancing practices.
Before COVID-19 prompted new guidelines urging people to maintain a distance of at least six feet between one another, Long would allow clients to come inside the facility to pick food items for their boxes, she said.
Now, she and volunteers distribute food outside, assisting only one client at a time while others wait their turn at a safe distance. They’ve also put together prepackaged food boxes with vegetarian and non-vegetarian options, so clients will not have to enter the facility.
“They just pick whichever box they want,” said Long, who added that she records clients’ Banner ID numbers verbally. “When someone grabs their box, it’s just their box that they’re touching – they’re not touching anyone else’s things.”
Long depends on donations from community members and area businesses to keep Aggie Cupboard’s shelves stocked with food.
During this time, she wants donations to remain steady so volunteers can keep up with the increasing number of clients. Given the current demand, Long expects to serve more clients this year than previous years.
“We need staples like everyone else does. We’re extremely low on evaporated milk or dry milk,” she said. “I’m trying to provide food that follows the MyPlate guidelines, in terms of nutrition, so that people have protein, they have carbs, they have dairy, they have vegetables, and they have fruit.”
In addition to dairy items, Aggie Cupboard also needs donations of canned fruit, tuna, canned chicken, beans, rice, lentils, peanut butter, pasta, canned vegetables, diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, soup, macaroni and cheese, and instant noodles.
Donors may drop off items between 9:30 and 11 a.m. Tuesdays and 1 and 3 p.m. Thursdays at Aggie Cupboard, 906 Gregg St.
Aggie Cupboard also accepts monetary donations through a “Make a Statement” crowdfunding campaign via this website.
For more information about Aggie Cupboard, click here or call 575-646-7636.
Author: Carlos Andres Lopez – NMSU
~~To keep up to date with all news from Las Cruces & Southern New Mexico visit our partners at Las Cruces Today