Home News COVID-19 Situation Harvest Ministries adapts to COVID-19

Harvest Ministries adapts to COVID-19

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Alex Ross Photo Santos Chavez, a volunteer with Harvest Ministries, stands outside the vehicle of someone getting food from the pantry. To help reduce the risk of infection, volunteers now wear gloves and protective masks, while servicing people outside their building in the 600 block of North Main Street.

Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

People might no longer see people lined up outside the front door of Harvest Ministries, but the local nonprofit is continuing to be a source of food for households on limited budgets.

The nonprofit has provided crucial assistance to those in need, distributing 615,227 pounds of food to households and other entities in 2019, according to the Harvest Ministries website.

And with unemployment spiking as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing measures used to curb its spread, Mark Green, a pastor and executive director of Harvest Ministries, said his organization has seen an increase in the number of people seeking help.

Though they have not experienced huge leaps in requests for assistance, Green said the increase is noticeable, especially this past week which each day has seen an uptick in the number of people coming to the organization’s North Main Street location in search of assistance.

“The parking lot was totally full, and people were parking out on the street today,” he said.

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Green said he hears about the strain people are facing when he talks to them. He recounts hearing he talked to one woman who said she is used to providing her children with one meal a day, since they usually have breakfast and lunch at school. Now even with schools still providing some meals, she said she has had to spend more money on food.

“She said they are eating me out of house and home. Even with the school lunches, the kids are just home eating all day. She said we are really running out of food fast,” Green said.

Many people, he added, have also been furloughed or laid off because of social distancing measures and public health orders closing businesses not deemed essential by the state. Green said with no paycheck, the people who come to Harvest Ministries for help are worried about making ends meet.

“They are concerned about being able to pay their rent and their utilities,” he said.

Harvest Ministries is also facing challenges associated with COVID-19, with rising demand for their services and less food being donated.

With schools closed, some of the food drives run by schools have been canceled, as has the National Association of Letter Carrier’s Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive, where letter carriers with the U.S. Postal Service collect bags of donated canned goods and nonperishable items left out by people’s mailboxes.

The Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive last year provided more than 17,000 pounds of food for Harvest Ministries, Green said.

And weeks ago, the panic buying that came with the onset of COVID-19 in New Mexico further dried up another crucial source of donations.

Stores typically provide Harvest Ministries leftover food nearing its expiration date or surplus items. With people buying large quantities of food and other items, stores were forced to constantly restock shelves, leaving nothing to be donated to the shelter.

Green said those donations are crucial for those seeking food assistance.

“Some of these people depend a lot on charities and if we run out, their situation can go from uncomfortable to desperate pretty quick,” he said.

To maintain the essentials, the Roadrunner Food Bank in Albuquerque is helping by delivering food to Harvest Ministries. Weeks ago, Roadrunner delivered 10,000 pounds of food, and is expected to drop off another shipment Monday.

“We are anticipating at least being able to hold our own at least for the next couple of weeks,” he said.

Donations though are crucial. Green said that Harvest Ministries and other food assistance organizations are bracing for a possible big surge in demand for assistance, as unemployment mounts and money and household food supplies diminish.

“That’s what most of us are saying. We are anticipating that at some point, getting hit really hard by people when there is a lot of need that happens, when everybody gets to the end of their resources,” he said.

Green though said despite the uncertainty, he is confident that he and volunteers at Harvest Ministries will continue to service those in need.

“We trust God. He has always supplied for us and we believe he will always supply for us, as long as we continue, as long as we keep doing his work,” Green said.

Like most entities, Harvest Ministries has also had to make some adjustments in the way they operate to keep both volunteers and clientele safe.

People seeking services are no longer able to enter the building, and the laundry and shower services they provide to the homeless have been suspended.

When people come to get food, they must come to the back of the building. Those who come by vehicle are given a number and must drive into the parking lot and wait for Green or a volunteer to bring them their food items. People are not allowed to get out of their cars.

Individuals who come on foot are relegated to a small seating area behind the building where seats are six feet apart. There they must wait for their food.

All volunteers are required to wear gloves and face masks and volunteers working inside must wear gloves.

Harvest Ministries has also cut back on the number of volunteers they have. Before COVID-19, they usually had 12 to 20 volunteers, now they have reduced that to between eight and 12 of their more regular volunteers.

“And we are doing the same thing everyone else is doing, we are sanitizing all the doorknobs and light switches and door facings and everything every day,” he said,

Green said they are doing this to ensure the safety of their volunteers and clientele.

“We’re not afraid, we are just being cautious. We are just trying to be really smart in what we do as far as food distribution,” he said.

Despite the pressures and the changes to his operation, Green said he thinks Harvest Ministries is in better shape then many other food assistance organizations within the state. He said he has heard of some that have had to curtail their services or shut down because of a lack of volunteers or other issues.

Green said that is not the case with Harvest Ministries.

He said Harvest Ministries has devoted and faithful volunteers and many businesses are as generous as they can be in their support of the organization’s work.

Even in tough times, they find people willing to help.

One such example was when members of a local circus troupe stranded at the Eastern New Mexico State Fairgrounds made more than 80 face masks for Harvest Ministries volunteers.

The masks can be washed and have coffee filters that can further protect from the disease. Green said before then he had a small box of about 15 masks that volunteers were forced to reuse.

Coffee filters that are in the new masks can be replaced.

Members of the Portugal Circus made the masks after Green went out to the Fairgrounds to see if they needed food. The circus members then in turn asked if they could spend some time volunteering at Harvest Ministries. Green though said they are currently cutting back on their volunteers.

“And they said ‘well, do you need masks? We can make masks.’ And I said sure, we desperately need them” Green said.

Green said Harvest Ministries is grateful for the gesture.

“I asked for their names and they said just say it is from the ladies at the circus,” he said.

People who want to know more about Harvest Ministries and make a donation can visit their website at https://www.harvestmin.net/.

Breaking news reporter Alex Ross can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext, 301, or breakingnews@rdrnews.com.