Life.Church Rio Rancho is at 4401 Northern Blvd. Amy Byres photo.

Life.Church Rio Rancho

Life.Church Rio Rancho, part of a Christian church with 34 sites in 10 states, has focused on maintaining connection and helping the community during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Throughout this pandemic, many people have struggled with fear, anxiety and isolation, which remind us that we were created to be in community,” said Pastor Keith Phifer. “So, our church worked hard to figure out other ways we could stay connected to God and each other when we couldn’t be together physically.”

Life.Church, which has been in Rio Rancho since 2015, has held online services and compiled content such as weekend messages and Bible-reading plans on its website.

The congregation has also donated $10,000 to Storehouse West as the pantry has begun serving more than 100 new families each month, up from 30 new families before the pandemic, Phifer said. Its $25,000 grant to the Presbyterian Healthcare Foundation in Albuquerque helps medical workers with needs such as child care and counseling, as well as allowing hospitals to buy personal protective equipment and other items.

“We know the church is a place of refuge that offers people peace, comfort and hope during difficult times,” Phifer said. “After a significant amount of prayer and preparation, we’ve recently resumed services at Life.Church Rio Rancho. We’re committed to creating an environment that meets government recommendations for safety.”

He said services have a touchless environment, a reduced capacity and social distancing. The times changed to 8:30, 10 and 11:30 a.m. on Sundays.

Phifer said the church can’t reopen its children’s ministry yet, but members are preparing based on official guidance and best practices to create a safe environment.

For more information, visit the church’s website,, or find it on Facebook.



The LifeROOTS location in Rio Rancho is at 1909 29th St. Amy Byres photo.

LifeROOTS has turned to technology to continue supporting children and adults with disabilities and their families during the pandemic.

President and CEO Kathleen Cates said the Children’s Services division usually makes home visits to offer speech, occupational and physical therapy to kids younger than 3 years old.

“That has completely stopped,” she said, because LifeROOTS employees are prohibited from entering clients’ homes.

The nonprofit is offering tele-health therapeutic services, and about half of the families use the option.

Adult Community Services, which provided activities during the day, has been shut down since March.

“So all those adults are now in their homes, being bored and not being integrated into the community, and having behaviors because they’re so isolated,” Cates said.

Meanwhile, parents struggle to care for their disabled adult child while working.

To help, LifeROOTS offers adult participants a weekly online interactive program.

On the other hand, Business and Contract Services are booming with increased demand, she said. Employees, 75 percent of whom have a disability, provide grounds-keeping and custodial services, including disinfectant fogging that kills the coronavirus.

LifeROOTS, which has operated in Rio Rancho since 1978, had to furlough 6.5 percent of its employees, mostly in the Adult Community Services division, Cates said. They’ve been able to work full hours again in the last month because the state amended LifeROOTS’ Medicare and Medicaid contracts.

The nonprofit can now bill for modified services and pay those staff members.

LifeROOTS employees are starting to come back to the office after working from home, with safety precautions.

Cates said she thinks everyone is suffering from “COVID fatigue.”

“We have to push through our fatigue and consciously be kind to each other right now, because it’s not over yet,” she said.

St. Felix Pantry is at 4020 Barbara Loop. Courtesy photo.

St. Felix Pantry

St. Felix Pantry has made changes during the novel coronavirus pandemic, but it still supplies food to people who need it.

Director of Development Rachael Miletkov said the pantry, incorporated in 1992, has reduced its hours to 9 a.m. to noon Thursday through Saturday to allow time for food to be packaged in a grab-and-go format. Clothing provision, classes and referrals have been suspended.

Early on, Miletkov found a lot of food distributors were limiting their donations because of sky-rocketing demand. So, pantry staff members rethought where they were getting food and started buying in bulk.

Because meat is scarce, they get vegetarian complete proteins such as peanut butter and beans and rice. The pantry has purchased and received donations of fresh produce, because of its importance in nutrition.

St. Felix partnered with a woman working on the Navajo Nation to transport healthy food to people there who had diabetes and were isolated due to coronavirus exposure.

Saturday is the only day when St. Felix has a shortage of volunteers.

“We are one of the only food pantries in New Mexico that has remained open, and that’s because of our volunteers,” Miletkov said.

St. Felix has suspended acceptance of new volunteers in order to limit possible virus exposure. Going forward, she said, the pantry will add more days of operation and take new volunteers in Phase 3 of reopening.

“Because we are still purchasing bulk amounts of food, we are still in need of monetary donations,” Miletkov said.

To donate or more information, visit or call 891-8075.

The Unitarian Universalist Westside Congregation normally meets at 1650 Abrazo Road, but the building is closed during the pandemic. Courtesy photo.

Unitarian Universalist Westside Congregation

The Unitarian Universalist Westside Congregation, which has been housed on Abrazo Road for about 23 years, has struggled most with isolation during the pandemic, said consulting minister Rev. Nancy Hitt.

Continuity has presented another challenge, she said, since the church has suspended classes, some building maintenance, in-person services and other events.

To lessen the isolation, the congregation developed a phone network so anyone who wanted to participate could get a weekly call from a fellow member.

“We only missed a week of services,” Hitt said.

By the week after the building closed, she and volunteers were video-recording services.

“There is a long and slow learning curve here,” she said.

Recording has been a challenge, and not all members have computers or are comfortable with the video formats they’ve tried. Still, some members use Zoom for meetings, and Hitt said they’ve decided to update the church website.

The leadership of the denomination has recommended online-only services until May 2021. She said the local board of directors took the advice to heart, especially with two-thirds or more of the congregation being elderly or having an underlying health concern.

They’ll eventually re-evaluate the situation to see what direction to take then. Hitt said almost 100 percent of the congregation has agreed that masks and social distancing should be part of reopening.

UU churches “affirm the truth in all religions,” Hitt said, and emphasize social justice, including seeking to combat racism in response to current events.

“We’re here; we’re online; we definitely welcome people visiting into our services and leaving comments for us,” she said.

For services and more information, visit

Watermelon Mountain Ranch 

Twinkle Toes is one of the dogs available for adoption at Watermelon Mountain Ranch. She is a 2-year-old mixed-breed dog. Courtesy photo.

Watermelon Mountain Ranch has faced furloughs and stunted fundraising due to the novel coronavirus, but it also saw an outpouring of support and increased adoptions.

The no-kill animal shelter, which opened in 1996, had to furlough half of the team when Cottonwood Mall shut down due to COVID-19 restrictions, said Executive Director Sara Heffern. The spay-and-neuter program and volunteer orientations are on hold.

However, she called the support the animals have received “absolutely amazing.” The community has donated large amounts of pet food and kitty litter.

Adoptions are by appointment only.

“We’ve had to restrict a lot of what we’ve done, but it’s been very successful,” Heffern said.

Adoptions and foster homes for animals have gone up.

“We’ve been lucky we have not had to turn down a single transport or request to save lives since the shutdown happened,” she said.

Also, the shelter’s pet-food pantry is open for anyone struggling to feed their furry friends.

Heffern expects to take time reopening the adoption center at the mall, making sure it’s safe for shelter staff and the public.

Big fundraising events had to be canceled, but technology has provided a work-around. The Fur Ball is going digital this year.

“The biggest thing is that we are just very thankful to the community for their support,” Heffern said.

For more information about Watermelon Mountain Ranch, call 771-0140, email [email protected] or visit for contact information for specific departments.