TWO PEAKS — A pickup truck backs up to Jay Wood’s home on the northernmost reach of Carson Mesa. Folks from the neighborhood unload cans of soup and beans, boxes of cornbread mix, bags of oatmeal, and sacks of fresh produce.
They lay the food out on a long, makeshift table and laugh about the gigantic spaghetti squash that takes up so much room. Then they light hand-rolled cigarettes and wait.
Soon, a young couple arrives on foot. Four women and a man drive up in an old Volvo sedan. More appear, until there is more than a dozen people standing around, talking. This is the weekly food bank for those who live off-the-grid west of the Río Grande Gorge.
For some, it is the sole source of food during many weeks of the year. For others, it supplements what they can grow or buy. For all, the Thursday food delivery and giveaway represents one of the few times that neighbors in this disparate, scattered portion of Taos County get together.
“It’s as much a social event as anything,” said Wood, who has been running the food bank on a shoestring for the last five years. “It’s far from town, and there’s a lot of people out here without cars. We just want to feed the people.”
Short of cash, long on hope
The effort is now under the aegis of the nonprofit Sunshine Foundation, named after food bank founder Mary Sunshine, of Questa.
“For four years, Mary hitchhiked to Taos to fax in our order,” Wood said. “She’s the reason this is going.”
The nonprofit status permits Wood and other organizers to take donations. Treasurer David Dingman keeps track of the books, but cash is always scarce.
“Most of these people don’t have much, so we can’t ask much from them,” Wood said.
What they scrape up goes to pay $25 for gas to deliveryman Josh, and whatever is left over buys wholesale groceries at the St. James Episcopal Church Food Depot every Thursday. Produce and bread are free, but canned and packaged goods cost. For instance, on Thursday (Oct. 9), a case of ranch-style beans went for $3.50 while a two-pound bag of oatmeal cost $1.01.
“Sometimes we get all that we order, but mostly we only get some of it,” said Cindy Dingman, who handles ordering for the food bank.
Luckily, a nearby neighbor has Internet access, so Dingman can now get the “offerings list” each week and make the Sunshine order online. Twelve agencies in the Taos area buy food at the church each week, so amounts vary from week to week. On the way back from town, the Sunshine truck stops at a few homes to drop off food: “Our meals-on-wheels program,” said Wood with a laugh.
Once back on the mesa, up to 30 people typically show up to share in the bounty. Organizers try to divvy up the goods so that everyone gets what they need. Wood said they distributed 139,000 pounds of food in 2007, and are on that pace this year. Occasionally, someone donates some clothing; at this session, a pair of men’s work boots got snapped up quickly by a man in need of winter footwear. After boxing up their food, the group hung out outside Wood’s travel trailer for a while. The recently released documentary film, “Off the Grid,” filmed in the area, got much play; it seemed everyone had appeared in the film.
They chatted about the weather, about their neighbors, about how uncomfortable it is for some to go to town. Inside the trailer, a woman combed through Wood’s library of paperbacks: “Lots of people read out here.” Outside his home below Two Peaks, Stan Bulis talked about how important the food bank was to this scrappy collection of loners, misfits and just plain elbow-room-lovin’ folk.
“Lots of people don’t want to go into town, that’s why they’re out here,” said Bulis. “They don’t get food stamps and they can’t get around anyway. Out here, the food bank saves lives.”
To make a donation to the food bank, make checks to “Sunshine Foundation” and mail to Cindy and David Dingman, 6847 NDCBU, Taos, 87571.