What began with Sister Genevieve of the Rio Rancho Convent traveling around the area to pick up day-old bread from various businesses and giving the bread out of the trunk of her car to the needy has turned into St. Felix Pantry, a nonprofit that has been feeding the hungry in the community for 31 years.
The pantry has been a resource for the most vulnerable, not only in Rio Rancho, but throughout New Mexico. It is the only food pantry in Sandoval County that offers weekly access to groceries. St. Felix feeds more than 1,000 individuals each week.
While the goal at St. Felix is to help those in need, something that is very important to Sister Mary Angela, St. Felix’s president and CEO, is respect for human dignity.
“We call everybody a guest, not a client,” Director of Development Rachael Miletkov said. “Because from the Felician sisters, Sister Mary Angela obviously is a Felician sister, one of their core values is recognizing the dignity in each human being, and so that’s part of why we have language and the way we serve and the way we meet people where they are. It’s recognizing everyone’s dignity.”
One of those guests was Joshua Hernandez, a New Mexico state representative from Rio Rancho. He spent time shopping at “Barbara Loop,” what he thought was a grocery store but was actually St. Felix located at 4020 Barbara Loop, when he was a kid. Now as a state rep, Hernandez is working to make sure St. Felix has enough funding to help children like him and families like his.
Hernandez pledged $100,000 in Junior Bill funding last year to St. Felix’s, and the Sandoval County Commission recently agreed to act as fiscal agent to help get that money from Santa Fe to the pantry. Senate Bill 48, often referred to as the “Junior Bill,” provides funding for critical community projects and services throughout New Mexico. St. Felix Pantry definitely meets the criteria.
“St. Felix Pantry holds a special place in my heart,” Hernandez said. “It reminds me of cherished childhood memories spent alongside my grammie, picking up her essential food supplies from where we affectionately called ‘Barbara Loop.’ For over three decades, St. Felix has served as Sandoval County’s sole food pantry, providing vital assistance to more than 1,000 individuals every week. As the state representative for District 60, I had the honor of contributing $100,000 from my junior funding to support St. Felix’s mission of providing nourishing meals to those in need within our community.”
St. Felix had 100 volunteers working to sort through, stock and distribute groceries prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now a group of 70 works in rotating groups of 20 to feed hungry people. St. Felix is open and serving food Thursday, Friday and Saturday; Tuesday and Wednesday are used to prepare and get that food ready and ensure that everybody gets a variety in their grocery cart.
The facility at St. Felix was abuzz Thursday morning, with cars filling the parking lot and volunteers loading and unloading cars in the rain. Inside, volunteers hustled to sort through and organize donations while others filled crates with well-balanced meals. St. Felix has four trucks that are used to pick up large donations from grocery stores, a huge walk-in freezer, a large shelf of produce and even a peanut butter room.
But the shelves and fridges and freezers can also be better stocked. Donations, specifically of dried beans, rice, pasta, etc.; canned vegetables, meats, soup, broth, etc.; packaged/boxed dried potatoes, sides, macaroni and cheese, etc.; and packaged dried fruits, nuts, etc. are accepted at the pantry from 9 a.m. to noon Thursday through Saturday.
Miletkov has one request before you bring in a donation, though.
“Please look at the expiration dates. We don’t serve food that’s expired,” Miletkov said. “With deli items and bread items, there’s a little bit of leniency. But we’re very, very cautious because, with respect to people’s dignity, we do not serve anything that’s past its expiration date within a day or two.”
Those donations are, sadly, always needed. St. Felix dished out more than 105,000 servings in 2022. Inflation, reduced SNAP benefits and the end of some COVID-related funds are just going to increase the need for St. Felix Pantry in the community.
Sister Mary Angela, Miletkov and countless others have worked to respect Sister Genevieve’s legacy and fulfill her dream to feed the hungry and poor while restoring their dignity and hope.
“I tell everybody, especially my teenage boys, you can do something,” Miletkov said. “You can’t handle the whole world’s problems, but you can do something, you can start somewhere with something small. Even if it’s just seeing the person on the side of the street and just acknowledging them with a wave. That’s something. Don’t pretend like you don’t see. We all know it’s a big problem, but you can do something.”