Sunday, July 21, 2013

Suburban Poverty (Part 3): Rio Rancho, New Mexico

St. Felix Pantry has operated in Rio Rancho since 1992
(Editor's Note. This is the third in three-part series about poverty in the suburbs. Part 1 featured a book on this topic by Elizabeth Kneebone and Alan Berube of the Brookings Institution, and Part 2 looked at demographic mapping tool from the Urban Institute.  Part 3 brings the topic home to New Mexico).

It is very hard to find communities in New Mexico that you would actually call a "suburb." One could make an argument that certain neighborhoods in Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Las Cruces have suburban traits. Still, there is one city in the Albuquerque metropolitan area that could qualiy as a suburb: The city of Rio Rancho.  But Rio Rancho is also considered a city in its own right.  In fact, this is the fourth largest city in the state in terms of population, surpassed only by  Albuquerque, Las Cruces and Santa Fe.

For the sake of this blog post, let us consider Rio Rancho a suburb of Albuquerque. Like many communities outside a major city, Rio Rancho has attracted emigres from the city, initially offering new housing developments (and less-expensive housing) and employment at the Intel plant.  Rio Rancho grew very fast, with its population surpassing  87,000 by 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

But with growth came poverty.  The American Community Survey (a project of the U.S. Census Bureau) showed a poverty rate of 11.4% in Rio Rancho in 2010, compared with a median of 7.9% between 2006 and 2010.  (Here is a comparison with other cities in our state for that period).  By way of comparison, the poverty rate was 17.4% in Albuquerque in 2010 and 15.7% in 2006-2010. 

St. Felix Pantry: More than 20 Years of Service
While the Kneebone-Berube study started tracking the movement of poverty to the suburbs since 1980, the trend has been present in Rio Rancho at least since 1992, when the Felician Sisters CCSF, launched St. Felix Pantry to meet what the saw as growing needs for the local population.  There was a growing segement of the population in Rio Rancho that was below the poverty line, and many times these families had to find food and other services Albuquerque. Not only was distance a problem, but the lack of transportation created many obstacles for low-income folks in Rio Rancho. St. Felix responded to the need, and more than 20 years later, the agency continues to provide a safety net for families in times of crisis, offering food, clothing, household items, and referral services free of charge.  Watch the St. Felix Pantry video

Like most suburban operations, the pantry has noticed an increase in people needing assistance in recent years. "The need for these services has grown in relationship to the economic downturn: loss of jobs, rise in food and fuel costs, and recent cutbacks in welfare and healthcare benefits," St. Felix said in its Web site. "Annually, the Pantry currently provides groceries for the equivalent of 2 million meals, feeding more than 52,453 people each year." ​

There are other agencies and churches providing assistance in Rio Rancho, including People Helping People, Storehouse West, Powerhouse Fellowship Church, Inc. and High Desert United Methodist Church. These service providers operate with the assistance of Roadrunner Food Bank, whose main operation is based in Albuquerque.

Michael and Jennifer's Story
There are faces and situations that accompany the statistics and demographics of hunger and poverty, and Roadrunner Food Bank offers a few stories, including an account about a family in  Rio Rancho,

Michael and Jennifer Smith live in Rio Rancho and have been looking for work.  Michael taught one year at an area high school and was laid off last year due to budget cuts.  He is still seeking employment, even if it isn’t in his chosen teaching profession.  Michael said, “We can keep a roof over our head, pay some of our bills, and manage to pay for some of my insulin medication, but there isn’t always enough for food.  What is left of our monthly income is about $60 for groceries for the entire month for a family of seven.”

Jennifer is also looking for a job, but she is busy raising her five children whose ages are from elementary school to college.  She said, “It is difficult to find employment right now.  The economy has made it tough to locate even a part-time job.”

Even though the family has access to some unemployment and is on SNAP (food stamp) benefits it isn’t enough for all their food needs.  The family receives a Roadrunner Emergency Family Food Box through Rio Rancho Elementary to help supplement their food.  Michael said, “We are so grateful to receive food from Roadrunner Food Bank.  If I could personally thank everyone who donated the food items in the box, I would.”

Read more stories from Roadrunner Food Bank

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