Virtual concert to benefit ECHO food bank as demand climbs with lingering pandemic

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
An ECHO Food Bank truck is parked outside the Sheep Springs Chapter House on the Navajo Nation, where the agency distributed nearly 17,000 pounds of food.
  • The virtual Food for Love concert will take place from 5 to 10 p.m. Feb. 13.
  • It features The Chicks, Jackson Browne, Lyle Lovette, David Byrne, Steve Earle and others.
  • The concert is free to watch, but donations are encouraged.

FARMINGTON — A star-studded virtual benefit concert planned next month is likely to provide a much-needed shot in the arm to organizations across New Mexico that help feed the hungry, according to the leader of Farmington's food bank — especially as they struggle to meet the increased need they are seeing in the wake of the pandemic-induced economic downturn.

"It's only going to help us get food out to the people who need it," said Nanette Pinckney, CEO of ECHO — Economic Council Helping Others Inc., — which operates a food bank and preschool, in addition to providing emergency assistance to residents for rent, utilities and funeral expenses, among other items.

"Without these types of fundraisers, we wouldn't be able to do what we do," she said.

ECHO more than just a food bank

Pinckney had served as CEO of the organization only a few months when the pandemic hit in March, quickly leading to a 60-percent increase in the amount of food ECHO distributes to northwest New Mexico residents.

"Demand was, and still is, tremendous," she said.

Nanette Pinckney

But ECHO does far more than feed hungry people, Pinckney noted. Even as the organization was seeing a sharp increase in demand for its food boxes, it was witnessing a surge in the number of people who were having trouble meeting their monthly household expenses because they had lost their job or had their hours cut after the COVID-19 restrictions took effect.

Before the pandemic, ECHO typically dispersed $7,000 to $8,000 a month to local families or individuals for emergency assistance. Now, Pinckney said, it is distributing several times that amount each month.

"The need has been unreal," she said.

MORE:ECHO works to meet increased demand for food, emergency services like utility assistance

ECHO has been able to meet that increased need through a variety of sources, Pinckney said, mostly from federal stimulus package funds that have trickled down to the organization through various government agencies.

"If that hadn't been there, I don't know what we would have done," she said.

Pinckney's organization also has been the recipient of several grants and donations from foundations or other charitable organizations that have rallied to the cause. She said in some instances, her organization didn't even have to ask for help before it was extended.

Emergency food boxes prepared by the staff and volunteers at the ECHO Inc. food bank await distribution.

And, of course, numerous individuals throughout northwest New Mexico have pitched in with donations of money or food to help ECHO serve everyone who needs help, she said.

"We've got an awesome, supportive community," she said, noting that she believes individual donations are up since the pandemic began, even though many residents of the area are hurting financially.

MORE:ECHO Food Bank receives helping hands from Boy Scout volunteers

COVID-19 challenges ECHO's finances

Nevertheless, Pinckney worries that that reservoir of goodwill will begin to run dry the longer the pandemic continues and the more economic pain the region experiences.

"I do think, over time, people run out of money, and we are going to run the risk of people not being able to fund us at the level they have for the last nine months," she said.

ECHO Inc. staff members and volunteers from the Kysar Leavitt Insurance Agency distribute emergency food boxes that provided approximately 18,000 meals to the community.

If a decline in giving does take place, Pinckney said, it could be made even worse by what she fears will be an increase in the number of people seeking assistance.

"I don't see that going away anytime soon," she said. "That's going to be a concern for a while."

ECHO's finances have been further challenged by the impact the pandemic has had on its preschool, Pinckney said. Because of social distancing requirements, ECHO has seen its capacity reduced to half its former number.

"When that happens, it obviously affects our revenue in a negative fashion," she said. "So we have to find other funding to bridge that gap."

Pinckney said the mix of federal, foundation and private funding has been enough to help ECHO stay afloat, but she frets over what the future could bring.

"We've been good so far, so fingers crossed we'll be able to continue with the same momentum," she said. "But there's going to be a time when those dollars are just gone."

MORE:Updates on the number of coronavirus cases in San Juan County and Navajo Nation

Virtual benefit concert could give boost

The virtual benefit concert being organized by the Food for Love organizing committee could help give ECHO and other groups that will benefit from the show a bit of a cushion.

The event will take place from 5 to 10 p.m. Feb. 13 and features more than 50 well-known acts, including the Chicks, David Byrne, Jackson Browne, Lyle Lovett and Steve Earle, along with several New Mexico-based artists, including Farmington's own DDAT, led by jazz trumpeter Delbert Anderson.

The Farmington quartet DDAT will be one of the groups or artists featured in a virtual benefit concert on Feb. 13 that raises funds for food banks across New Mexico.

The concert will be streamed for free on the Food for Love website, Facebook and YouTube pages, but viewers will be encouraged to make a donation. Proceeds will be split among the members of the New Mexico Association of Food Banks.

Pinckney noted that the five organizations included in that association — the Roadrunner Food Bank in Albuquerque and Las Cruces, the Food Depot in Santa Fe, the Community Pantry in Gallup, the Food Bank of Eastern New Mexico in Clovis and ECHO — serve every county in New Mexico. So donors will be helping feed hungry people in every corner of the state, she said.

The event also will feature appearances by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, former Gov. Bill Richardson, former U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, actor Ali McGraw, and authors George RR Martin and Hampton Sides.

"We see the suffering too many New Mexicans are facing and wanted to help in any way we could," Terry Allen, one of the event organizers and a well-known songwriter and artist, stated in the press release announcing the event. "We believe music is food for the soul, so we thought we could also use it to feed those in need. I reached out to a few of my musician friends, and the response was immediate. They didn't hesitate to step up and help, and it just grew from there."

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or Support local journalism with a digital subscription.