Cans to help the needy
By Mike Cook
Las Cruces Bulletin
“Can” is the pivotal word when you think about the can-do attitude at Las Cruces’ Casa de Peregrinos Emergency Food Program.
Canstruction is an event scheduled for Friday, Oct. 2 to Sunday, Oct. 4 during the Southern New Mexico State Fair and Rodeo at the fairgrounds.
Cans of food will be made into sculptures at the fairgrounds.
All the canned goods used will be donated to Casa de Peregrinos (CDP) and the group will also use the weekend to spread the word about the organization.
Executive Director Lorenzo Alba Jr. has high hopes the event can do great things to reduce food insecurity in Doña Ana County and introduce CDP to a whole new group of donors and volunteers. Philanthropy and community service are vital to its survival, he said.
Canstruction is a new project for CDP and staff and volunteers began planning it in January.
In addition to donations, Alba said Canstruction will be “a really aggressive advocacy effort. In front of literally thousands of people” at the fair, where CDP will be able “to share information about our mission, our agency and our partnerships.”
Following the international charity’s strict guidelines — visit www.canstruction. org for more information — four teams of up to five members each from the Greater Las Cruces Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership Las Cruces program are collecting donations all over the county to buy the cans they will need to build imaginative “cansculptures.”
Each team includes at least one engineering consultant to guarantee the safety of its structure, Alba said.
You can watch the sculptures being built and view them noon to 10 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 2; 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 3; and 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 4 at the fairgrounds west of Las Cruces.
The sculptures will be in the special events center.
Alba said visitors also will be able to buy tickets for $1 each to vote for their favorite sculpture.
The Golden Can award will be presented to the team that best meets the spirit of the event with the most number of meals, determined by food weight and money collected. All teams will be entered into a photo-based international competition.
One of CDP’s partners on Canstruction is Lowe’s grocery store at the corner of Solano Drive and University Avenue. Lowe’s is ordering the canned goods for Canstruction in 20 different sizes, ranging from tiny green chile cans to giant commercial-sized tomato cans. CDP staff will pick up the cases of canned goods from the store and deliver them first to its warehouse at the Las Cruces Community of Hope for a practice build for the sculpture teams, and then to the fairgrounds for the event.
Staff from Roadrunner Food Bank, which operates in Las Cruces and Albuquerque, will also be on hand at the fair.
In addition to Lowe’s grocery story and Leadership Las Cruces, CDP’s major partners on Canstruction are The Associated General Contractors of America, the New Mexico chapter of the American Institute of Architects, Jaynes Corporation and the New Mexico chapter of the American Council of Engineering Companies.
Casa de Peregrinos
CDP was founded 35 years ago in Las Cruces and provided food to an estimated 6,500 families (with an average size of 3.3 members each) last year. Alba said New Mexico has among the highest rates of child and adult hunger in the nation. And, with more than 25 percent of its population living below the poverty line, Doña Ana County has an estimated 31,000 people who are food insecure, he said.
In addition to its program in Las Cruces, CDP also operates 12 food pantries in the colonias in southern New Mexico, Alba said. CDP has a small staff and 35-40 volunteers who work in the Las Cruces food pantry every week and 125130 who volunteer in the rural pantries, he said.
“Part of our name is ‘emergency.’ We serve people below poverty level, the homeless and families with real food emergencies. We don’t say no to people. We definitely do whatever we can to make sure they’re taken care of.”
CDP relies on individual donors of food, money and time, along with grants and donations from local businesses, civic groups and religious organizations for its survival. “The city and county have been very big in assisting us as well,” Alba said. The program receives some funding from the federal Emergency Food and Shelter program, but receives no state funds.
Food donations to CDP “have gone up tremendously,” Alba said, due in large part to the food rescue program that was started in March 2014. Walmart of Las Cruces, the White Sands Commissary, Target, Natural Grocers, Mountain View Co-Op and others are donating food to CDP that is packaged imperfectly and can’t be sold or is close to its sell-by date. Alba said these donations will exceed a half-million pounds this year. “It’s just taken off. It’s the best thing that’s ever happened to us.”
And, Walmart has donated a refrigerated truck to Casa de Peregrinos, so staff can pick up an entire donation in one trip instead of having to go back several times, as they used to do when the only vehicles they had available to transport the food were a van and a pickup. “It’s really made a big impact,” Alba said.
“Casa de Peregrinos would not exist without this community,” Alba said. “This community has made it what it is today.”
“When you look at what our mission is, it’s easy to fall in love with it,” Alba said. “The mission is simple: We want to get food on people’s tables. How we keep our doors open, that’s the difficult part.”
CDP works closely with its neighbors on the Community of Hope campus at 999 W. Amador Ave., Alba said. “We share food with all the agencies and vice versa.” That includes El Caldito Soup Kitchen, Camp Hope transitional living for the homeless, St. Luke’s Health Care Clinic and Jardin de los Ninos for homeless and near homeless children.
“We’re a network of help, a one-stop shop,” said CDP volunteer Nancy Ryan. Nancy and her husband, Bernie, have been volunteering at Casa de Peregrinos for two years, and each contributes about 15 hours a week. Nancy is a member of CDP’s grant-writing and Canstruction committees.
“We know that the program works,” Alba said. But poverty and hunger continue to be serious issues in Dona Ana County.
For more information on Casa de Peregrinos, contact Alba at 523-5542 or lo.alba. firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit www.casadeperegrinos. org.