All over the country, more people are learning about the kind of shopping where everything is free. Food banks are drawing in people they never thought would come in. The Albuquerque Storehouse is one of the largest food pantries in the country, and is on a mission.
Volunteers and members of the five person staff kindly assist customers in filling their shopping carts with free food. Last year, a study by the New Mexico Association of Food Banks and Feeding America reported that nearly 40,000 New Mexicans seek food assistance each week.
Before the recession was announced as official in 2005, the Storehouse provided nearly two million meals. In the last two years alone, the Storehouse provided more than three million meals, according to its website. President of the Storehouse, Lee Maynard, said he is feeling the heat for keeping his pantry stocked.
"Where the competition comes in is the demand for the food that is available. So if there is a thousand pounds of beans out there and times get tough, there are more people who want the beans," Maynard said.
In 2006, the Storehouse experienced a dramatic increase in the amount of Storehouse customers. Maynard took this as a warning of what is to come in the next few years, and looked at more possible donators.
"It's one of those things that just puts you in a vice and keeps you there, so we have to work twice as hard when the economy is bad just to stay in the same place," Maynard said.
Storehouse management pushed to get more food from more sources to ensure their food supply.
"We saw this coming. We didn't quite see it coming in the size it eventually was, but we know it was going to be bad no matter how we looked at it. The Storehouse was able to absorb the increase,a little bit painful but not impossible," Maynard said.
As the economy continued into a recession the volunteers and the staff of the Storehouse, like Food Service Manager, Margaret Trujillo, began to lead a different crowd through the aisles of food.
"We noticed people came into the storehouse that we have never seen, I don't mean that in the sense we didn't know them, but people came in wearing suits and ties," Trujillo said.
Maynard saw his first customer in a suit in January of 2009 just needing some extra help after he was laid off.
Students from the surrounding area have also been coming into the Storehouse in increasing numbers. Maynard said the Albuquerque Storehouse experienced a 20% increase in customers in the last quarter of 2008. Since then, between 350 and 400 individuals have been coming in each day. However, Maynard said there are still more people in need.
"You want a vision statement? Feed more people," Maynard said. "The economy is always real to us."
The repercussions of an economic downtrun are seen by the long lines to get into the Albuquerque Storehouse. However, Trujillo and Maynard said they feel blessed to have enough food to go around. To get some extra help from the Storehouse, customers need a New Mexico photo ID.