Ann Palormo, who worked at New Mexico State University for 25 years and passed away in November, loved giving back to the Las Cruces community, especially El Caldito Soup Kitchen.
Recently, a group from NMSU’s University Advancement and Marketing and Communications offices honored Palormo’s memory by volunteering their time at El Caldito, an organization in constant need of volunteers and funds to keep going.
“It was a lovely gesture to honor someone,” said Kristin Casteel, a regular volunteer at El Caldito and a staff member in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at NMSU. “We had a crowded kitchen and it was so much fun.”
Martin Nanna, kitchen manager at El Caldito, said overall there are about 30 to 40 NMSU students and nearly 20 NMSU employees who volunteer their time every month. All those hands make it easier for volunteers to serve dozens, if not hundreds, of people in need of a good meal. On Thanksgiving alone, El Caldito served about 400 meals. During the first two Sundays in December, volunteers served between 140 to 180 people.
“There’s that old adage that says ‘Many hands make light work,’” Nanna said. “Having a lot of volunteers makes things go a lot smoother and easier.”
Several NMSU employees regularly give their time to El Caldito year round, including Marilyn Heide, who is also a staff member in the College of ACES. Heide said the kitchen relies on volunteers willing to do anything from pulling meat off of donated rotisserie chickens to detangling freshly-laundered apron strings.
“Our job is to make sure people get the food they need when they need it,” Heide said. “There’s a lot to do besides cook, serve and prep. There’s laundry and dishwashing and cleaning out the fridge.”
Casteel has been volunteering at El Caldito for more than 15 years and worked alongside Palormo at times. Casteel said that while sometimes it saddens her to see people from different walks of life at El Caldito, everyone there is grateful for the food and assistance they receive.
“I get so much more out of (volunteering) than I put into it,” Casteel said. “I feel good when I go home, even though I’m really tired.”
Since Casteel started volunteering at El Caldito, she’s also seen different types of fellow volunteers. One important lesson she stresses, Casteel said, is that volunteers must treat others, including patrons, with respect and love.
“These people deserve our respect. You must accept the way they are with no judgment,” Casteel said. “A number of people we feed aren’t necessarily in need. They’re just lonely.”
Casteel said that while the kitchen receives several donations of food during the holidays and year round, what the kitchen is most in need of are funds to pay utilities and purchase necessities such as food service gloves, hair nets, detergent, paper bags and plastic food storage bags. Nanna said the kitchen is also in need of coffee, olive oil, plastic sandwich bags, garlic powder, parsley and other spices.
Nanna said that it takes $10,000 a month to keep the kitchen open. He said that in the new year, he will explore various grants and foundations that might help keep El Caldito afloat. He said that while there’s an increase in volunteers during the holidays, he also needs volunteers year round, especially in June.
“June is a really slow month for us as far as volunteers, but it’s a large month for us in feeding people,” Nanna said. “Las Cruces is a very giving community. It’s a very easy sell, but like today there are only nine of us. There are days when we do need more hands.”