In the Rearview

Food need jumps, Río Grande most endangered U.S. river, Taos teachers get 6 percent raise

By MaryBeth Libbey
For The Taos News
Posted 4/18/18

- 10 YEARS AGO - 'Working to make ends meet'By R. Scott Gerdes, April 17, 2008. The food pantry at St. James Episcopal Church was the focus of this feature because for the first time...

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In the Rearview

Food need jumps, Río Grande most endangered U.S. river, Taos teachers get 6 percent raise


- 10 YEARS AGO - 'Working to make ends meet', By R. Scott Gerdes, April 17, 2008

The food pantry at St. James Episcopal Church was the focus of this feature because for the first time, the pantry was running out of food.

"We've been over capacity now for the last few months. We never ran out of food before," said Mike Hand, who supervised the Thursday afternoon distribution.

Scott Gerdes reported that in 2008, New Mexico ranked third in the nation in the percentage of residents not knowing where their next meal was coming from. By 2016, New Mexico ranked fourth highest.

Gerdes also reported that 10 years ago, 89,000 New Mexicans were visiting pantries, shelters and soup kitchens on a monthly basis, according to the New Mexico Association of Food Banks. By 2014, that number had dropped, but it was still running at about 70,000 statewide.

Not much change, but perhaps a good sign?

In 2008, here's what St. James' food pantry was providing:

• about 3,500 pounds of food a week, which feeds about 800 people a day

• slightly more than 140 people a week were visiting the pantry, more than double the rate five years before

• about 200-240 bags of staples each week since the pantry gives more than one bag to larger families.

Granted, 2008 was the year the housing bubble burst and the beginning of the Great Recession of the late 2000s. However, volunteer coordinator Marilyn Farrow said the number of people visiting the pantry had been steadily increasing for the previous five years. And, high fuel costs that year meant food cost more.

What's really disturbing, however, is that Farrow reported this week that St. James is seeing 500 people a week in 2018, more than three times the number it saw 10 years ago. Last year, she said they gave away 342 tons of food. This year she expects to exceed that.

Clearly, New Mexico, with the second highest unemployment rate in the nation at 5.8 percent in February, has not recovered from the Great Recession as most of the rest of the country has. Nor has Taos County: it's unemployment sat at 7.2 percent in February, reports the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The national average was 4.1 percent, considered by some economists to be nearly full employment.

- 25 YEARS AGO - 'Worst river: the Río Grande', By Jess Williams, April 22, 1993

It was sort of a sad Earth Day for Northern New Mexicans.

The Río Grande was named the most endangered river on the continent by American Rivers, a North American river conservation organization.

The news did not surprise local members of Amigos Bravos. Reporter Jess Williams quoted co-director Sawnie Morris as saying in a press release, "Given the relentless abuse of the Río Grande--which includes toxic mining spills, inadequate sewage treatment, water diversions and channelizations, pesticide run-off and nuclear and industrial wastes--it is a very sad, but not in the least surprising, announcement."

Now the Taos Poet Laureate, Morris then added that Pueblos, water users, environmentalists and others "were starting to come together to rectify this situation."

Meanwhile, Morris' co-director, Brian Shields, offered up more positive news by referring to Amigos Bravos' proposed State Rivers Program for New Mexico. The first step in this plan was a "river-resources inventory and assessment, which will bring all affected parties to the table with baseline data and provide a foundation for generating wise management decisions."

American Rivers' website today reminds us that in 2001 and 2002, the 1,900-mile Río Grande failed to reach the Gulf of Mexico for the first two years. However, it also points out that the Río Grande still boasts two Wild & Scenic River designations and the Río Grande del Norte National Monument dedicated in 2013.

Still, the river runs dry for hundreds of miles before it reaches El Paso and is replenished by the Río Conchas before it flows into the Big Bend region, where the second scenic river designation resides. The first is above Questa.

Meanwhile, drought continues and snowpack dwindles as anyone knows who spent this winter in Taos.

- 50 YEARS AGO - 'Pay hikes due teachers', Staff report,April 18, 1968

This is a headline we don't see much anymore, unless the teachers have walked out in protest, as they have in West Virginia and Oklahoma.

Taos Municipal Schools announced its intent to raise teacher salaries 6 percent, and the following week they received state approval to do just that. In cash, teachers would receive between $200 and $500 extra for the 1968-69 school year.

Of course, the typical Taos teacher's annual salary in 1968 was in the four figures. After the raise, the lowest paid teacher would get $5,700 a year and the highest paid would receive $8,700. The superintendent also was going to get a raise to put him at an annual salary of $16,000 a year. It was the second $500 annual increase in a row.

Principals, too, got a $500 a year raise.

The budget passed by the Taos schools board was for a total of $1.56 million, representing a $64,000 jump from the previous year. About 80 percent, or $50,000, of the increase was to go to teacher salary increases. The district only added one new teacher position that year.


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