Turkey shortage adds to list of challenges facing ECHO Food Bank this year

The annual San Juan County Food Drive Challenge is taking place over the next two weeks among government entities in the county.

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — The holiday food boxes that a Farmington nonprofit organization distributes to needy people throughout San Juan County will have a different starring attraction this year.

An outbreak of the avian flu has created a widespread turkey shortage, and that shortage has driven up the price of frozen turkeys to the point that the food bank at the Economic Council Helping Others cannot afford to purchase them for food box recipients, according to Nanette Pinckney, the organization’s CEO.

The cost of a large turkey is now anywhere from $40 to $80, she said — a sum that is beyond the means of her organization. That means ECHO will be supplying its recipients with roasting chickens instead of turkeys this year.

The turkey situation adds to the list of issues faced by ECHO as it struggles to meet the food needs of San Juan County families who need help this holiday season.

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“We continue to see a need for food in San Juan County,” she said. “A lot of that will be related to inflation and the cost of food in general.”

She said that’s why it’s important that local residents consider taking part in the annual San Juan County Food Drive Challenge, a friendly competition between employees of the City of Aztec, the City of Bloomfield, the City of Farmington and San Juan County. The entity that collects the most donated pounds of food per employee over the next two weeks will be declared the winner and will receive a Mr. Potato Head trophy in recognition of its effort.

San Juan County employees Theresa Barrera, left, and Tina Mauldsey, back, help a City of Farmington employee tally up the donated items received during last year's San Juan County Food Drive Challenge at the Economic Council Helping Others Food Bank in Farmington in November 2021.

According to a news release from San Juan County, the competition has taken place every year since 2009 and has grown into the largest annual food drive in the county for ECHO. Collection points for the donated food have been established across San Juan County, and residents are being asked to donate food on behalf of their favorite government entity.

The City of Bloomfield won the award for the third time last year, coming in with 1,753 pounds — an average of 25.41 pounds for each of the city’s 69 workers, according to the news release. That was just part of the 5.7 tons of food that was collected in 2022, the release states.

Since 2009, more than 92 tons of canned food — more than 184,000 pounds — has been collected across San Juan County, a sum that has allowed ECHO to supply more than 10,000 meals for those in need, according to the release.

The food collected by each government entity this year will be weighed on Nov. 17 at food bank headquarters, and the trophy will be presented to this year’s winner.

Pinckney said the need for donations is significant this year, as inflation has been a double-edged sword for her organization. Not only has it driven up the cost of the food ECHO purchases on behalf of its recipients, it also has led to more families not being able to afford to feed themselves, she said.

“Inflation definitely has taken a toll on people,” she said. “People who may have been eligible for assistance before and didn’t use us are coming in now.”

Nanette Pinckney

Still, the situation is not as bad this season as it was a couple of years ago, she said.

“We are seeing more people than prior to COVID, but less than when COVID was at its worst,” she said.

Pinckney cited figures from Feeding America, a nationwide nonprofit hunger relief organization, that shows that 17% of San Juan County residents — approximately 21,000 people — are food insecure. Feeding America defines the food insecure as those who are experiencing uncertainty to access to adequate food.

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She said many San Juan County residents may not realize they have friends and even family members who don’t have enough to eat simply because many needy people don’t tell anyone about their situation.

She encouraged county residents to purchase an extra few dollars’ worth of food the next time they go grocery shopping and drop the items off at a local government collection site or bring it directly to the food bank at 401 S. Commercial Ave. in Farmington.

In addition to canned foods, the organization also accepts peanut butter, jelly, cereal, cereal bars, pudding cups and holiday meal items. It also accepts cash donations, Pinckney said.

“If someone donated $20, we could get 200 meals out of that,” she said.

But inflation has eaten away at the organization’s buying power for several months now, she noted.

“Donations don’t go as far as they used to,” she said, noting that costs have increased not just for food, but for fuel and the drivers who deliver that food to market.

For more information about ECHO, visit echoinc.org.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 ormeasterling@daily-times.com. Support local journalism with a digital subscription: http://bit.ly/2I6TU0e.