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A few months ago, El Caldito Soup Kitchen surpassed two million meals served to homeless, hungry and needy clients since it was established in 1984.
A part of the Mesilla Valley Community of Hope (MVCH) complex at 999 W. Amador Ave. in Las Cruces, El Caldito serves meals 11 a.m.-2 p.m. every day of the year, said Gabe Anaya, a soup kitchen volunteer for the past 21 years who is now in his third year as the El Caldito board president. He said the soup kitchen averages about 200 people served each weekday and a few less on Saturdays and Sundays.
El Caldito relied entirely on volunteers from the time it opened in 1984 until three years ago when it hired its first full-time manager, said board Vice President Richard Lohmeyer. It added a second manager last year but continues heavy reliance on volunteers to help prepare and serve meals, wash dishes, pick up food donations and fundraise.
Lohmeyer said El Caldito averages about 500 volunteers a month, including some individuals or group members who volunteer once a month or once a week and others who are on site several days every week throughout the year.
“I don’t turn away any volunteer,” Lohmeyer said.
El Caldito’s cadre of volunteers includes two professional chefs, along with many local retirees and New Mexico State University students. Anyone is welcome to volunteer any amount of time he or she has available at the soup kitchen.
“People who work here are absolutely dedicated,” Lohmeyer said. “They love serving other people.”
In a story from Anaya’s spring 2019 newsletter, one client “has been coming to El Caldito for years. She brings her two grandmothers and her two daughters when they are not in school. As a single mother and the sole caregiver of her grandparents, she is grateful for the soup kitchen and the lunch it provides her family. When her girls are in school, she can take home some extra fruit, bread and other treats that may be offered. “’The staff and volunteers make us feel like family,’” this client said.
The soup kitchen receives food donations from about a dozen local stores and restaurants on a regular basis, Anaya said, and has a van to make daily pickups.
The success of El Caldito is “a community effort,” Lohmeyer said. “It takes everybody in the community to make it run.”
Including those struggling with homelessness, low-income families and others in need, “nobody is turned away” from receiving a free meal at El Caldito, Lohmeyer said.
El Caldito welcomes donations, including paper goods like cups, plates, napkins, utensils and to-go containers, said Volunteer Coordinator/Kitchen Administrator Diane D’Ambrosio. It also needs salad dressings, mayonnaise, cooking sprays, salt, pepper, sugar and other spices and cheese. And, the soup kitchen hopes to get donations of turkeys for Thanksgiving and hams for Christmas, along with all the trimmings for holiday meals, including pies and cakes.
In addition to paying the salaries of its 2.5 employees, Anaya said El Caldito also pays utility bills and for maintenance and insurance. It’s also hoping to raise money to begin replacing some of the equipment it’s been using for more than 20 years, including a stove, refrigerator, washer/dryer, icemaker and a walk-in freezer.
When it was founded 35 years ago, El Caldito offered a mid-day meal one day a week, according to the soup kitchen’s website. The kitchen was relocated to its present facility on the Mesilla Valley Community of Hope campus in 1998. In early 2002, services were expanded to offering a hot mid-day meal Monday through Friday. The program was further enhanced in December 2002 to provide a carry-out sack lunch on Saturday. Then, in early 2010, a hot Sunday lunch was added.
For more information, call 575-525-3831, text 575-636-0423 or visit elcalditolc.org and pottersguildlc.com.