July 10, 2008

Illegal Dumping Plagues Pantry

By Pilar Armstrong For the Telegraph

Over the past three years, the illegal dumping of trash and non- usable items has caused the East Mountain Food Pantry to come under the scrutiny of the Tijeras Fire Department.

While no citations have been issued, the consistent dumping is creating a fire and safety hazard at the facility, said Dave Bezy, Tijeras fire marshal.

"The trash and plastic bags (with donations) that are blocking the doorway are creating a potential hazard," Bezy said.

The East Mountain Food Pantry is the only food-distribution center between Albuquerque and Moriarty. Problems arise when people drop off their household trash and other nonusable items at the door of the modest stucco building in front of the First Tijeras Baptist Church, where the pantry has been located for more than 20 years.

"Recently someone dropped off their household trash. They could have mistakenly dropped off the wrong bag and taken the donation bag to the dump. We don't know," said Rosie Socha, a volunteer.

As many as 200 hungry East Mountain residents are served every Tuesday between the hours of 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. The food pantry is a nonprofit organization run by a staff of six volunteers. Food donations are received several ways: donation boxes located outside of the Triangle and Turquoise Trail grocery stores, food drives from local schools, and East Mountain residents who donate food items directly to the pantry.

"There's a lot of poverty in the East Mountains. With the prices of gas and groceries going up, there's going to continue to be a need for our services," said Winnie Pearsall, a pantry volunteer.

The pantry operates on a meager budget: between $400 and $500 per month. Volunteers Ken Wilson and Dave Zeller alternate driving to the Road Runner Food Bank in Albuquerque. The Road Runner Food Bank provides free commodity items, such as rice, beans, canned fruits and vegetables, to smaller food banks like the East Mountain Food Pantry, throughout New Mexico. Additional items can be purchased at a nominal cost.

"We couldn't exist without the Road Runner Food Bank. I recently purchased 850 pounds of additional food for $80," Wilson said.

Bu l k items pu rchased through the Road Runner Food Bank are redistributed into smaller parcels for foodbox distribution, he said.

Because of its affiliation with the Road Runner Food Bank, all of the money collected through the food pantry must be spent on food for distribution. This does not leave any money for extraneous expenses such as the disposal of trash and non-usable items left on the property. The volunteers are using their own money for disposal fees, Wilson said. The cost for a pickup load of trash is $4 per cubic yard plus an additional $3 per household appliance.

"I've gone to the dump as often as twice a week. The money I've spent on getting rid of broken stoves and dishwashers should have been spent on food," Wilson said.

Bezy suggested that additional volunteers be employed to work in the pantry throughout the week to supervise donation drop-offs.

"I was there one time conducting an inspection, and a truck loaded with stoves and other appliances pulled up. One of the ladies who worked there (at the pantry) ran out and told them that they weren't receiving those types of donations. If the volunteers weren't available to stop this person from dropping off those items, they may have ended up on the front porch," Bezy said.

Volunteers, food and monetary donations are needed, Wilson said. Donations of any type of food item are accepted at the facility between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. every Tuesday. Nonperishable food items can be placed in donation boxes outside of the Triangle and Turquoise Trail grocery stores. Monetary donations can be mailed to either: East Mountain Food Pantry, PO Box 66, Tijeras, NM, 87059; or Mountainside United Methodist Church, 4 Penny Lane, Cedar Crest, NM 87008.

Individuals who are interested in donating their time by working at the pantry can contact Wilson at 281-7747 or Pearsall at 281- 7747.

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