Toby Jaramillo’s food drive in high gear

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Toby Jaramillo’s cell phone is ringing constantly these days, but he is happy. He knows he will have enough resources on hand to feed the 350 or so needy families who will be waiting for their Christmas food bags at Finley Gym at 8:30 a.m. on Dec. 21.

“This year we were worried because of the economy, but things are coming along,” he said. “The Lord always provides, and this year, donations are the same, or even a little more, than last year.”

Canned goods can still be dropped off at many locations in town, including the San Miguel Church office, Comcast, Capitol Bar, City Hall, Chamber of Commerce and local schools.

Cash donations, which are tax deductible, are accepted at the San Miguel Church office from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and 8:30 a.m. to noon on Fridays.

The last day to donate food or cash is Dec. 20. Food will be sorted and bagged in time for distribution at Finley Gym at 8:30 a.m. Dec. 21.

The cash is used to buy perishable items.

“We collected about $3,000 in cash donations last year,” Jaramillo said. “That paid for turkeys and hams, bread, potatoes and fruit.”

Local grocery stores pitch in with donations or price breaks.

“The merchants have been awesome,” he said.

John Brooks Supermart donates the heavy paper bags that hold the canned goods each family receives. Day-old bread, rolls and pastries from the Smith’s bakery will be ready for Jaramillo to collect free of charge early on Dec. 21.

Other merchants give Jaramillo a discount.

“Ezequiel Acosta delivers Sara Lee products to the local grocery stores, and he gives us a price break on bread and rolls,” he said.

Walmart discounts the turkeys Jaramillo buys.

“For the last two years, Walmart has been helping me out a lot by giving us a price break on turkeys,” Jaramillo said. “Last year, we ordered 250 turkeys, and then we ran short, so we ended up ordering a few more.”

People receiving the free food on Dec. 21 are not screened ahead of time. Jaramillo said he depends on an honor system.

“We never turn anyone away. We don’t judge,” he said.

Families arriving at the gym sign a sheet stating the number of people in the household, and volunteers give them canned goods, bags of fruit and potatoes and bakery products, based on their stated needs.

“Every family gets a turkey,” he said. “But they get more or less food depending on the size of their household. We don’t start giving the food out till 8:30 a.m., and when it’s gone, it’s gone. First come, first served.”

The food distribution is scheduled to begin at 8:30 a.m., and Jaramillo says people start lining up by 6:30 a.m.

The food drive also provides turkeys and trimmings for special holiday meals to be prepared at the Socorro jail and the Disabled American Veterans Hall.

Usually the food runs out before the line ends, but not always.

“Normally, we don’t have any leftover bags, but if we do, we take them over to Storehouse,” he said. The Storehouse is Socorro’s food pantry, and is located at the Puerto Seguro – Safe Harbor facility on California Street next to the railroad tracks.