Volunteer Spotlight: Casa de Peregrinos

As the primary nutritional resource for those in need within Las Cruces and the surrounding communities of Dona Ana County, Casa de Peregrinos Emergency Food Program offers an invaluable service that many constituents count on for their survival.

“Last year, we were able to deliver a million and a half pounds of food through the doors, which is quite an accomplishment, but it's also been a real eye-opener for us,” Executive Director Lorenzo Alba said. “It's not really something you brag about when that much food goes out the door. It's more like, 'Wow, there's that many people that need our help.'"

Alba said that those seeking food assistance need only to bring a state-issued ID card and proof of residence to the building. No financial information, employment history, criminal background, or any other personal information is required. Families are allowed to come once per month. During the summer, families that have school-aged children are allowed to come twice per month. And for the homeless, they can come every week. Whatever the circumstance, the program will gladly make special arrangements for families or individuals that request it.

Founded in 1979, Casa de Peregrinos' mission has been to provide food for the homeless and for low-income families. That always hasn't been easy over the years, but thanks to a new computer system installed within the last couple of years, the process has been streamlined to make things more simple and efficient for everyone involved.

The new computer system has taken away some of the more tedious responsibilities of the staff and volunteers, which enables each worker to have a more clearly defined role and perform their jobs faster. For example, the system consolidated many specific food groups into broader categories, which allowed for a more efficient way to organize the shelves that volunteers pull groceries from and use to stock the carts. This enables the volunteers to begin preparing grocery carts sooner, the staff to better manage its customers during peak times, and those in need to spend significantly less time waiting to receive their groceries.

Here's how it works. After arriving in the lobby, individuals or families check-in with a receptionist and are assigned a number. Once the number is called, the person or group is briefly interviewed by a staff member to better understand their specific food needs, such as number of household members and any dietary restrictions. Following the interview, the person or group is assigned another number (a single letter this time, such as 'L') and returns to the seating area in the lobby.

Meanwhile, the information gathered from the interview gets entered into the computer system and a printout that details the person's or group's food needs is given to the volunteers. Unlike some food programs in other communities, the volunteers at Casa de Peregrinos are exclusively responsible for gathering and delivering all groceries for each individual or family. Once a cart is ready, a volunteer brings it out to the lobby, calls the person's or group's assigned letter, and delivers it.

“We know none of this is possible without the very small staff that works really hard, as well as a lot of great volunteers,” Alba said. “There the ones that really make this place go around and around.”

Despite the fact that volunteering at Casa de Peregrino's has also been simplified, there is still a great need for more volunteers to come help. With both morning and afternoon shifts available on Mondays, Wednesdays, and/or Fridays, there's enough flexibility to work when it's most convenient.

“Just come in, fill out a brief application, and want to help,” Alba said. “The training now is a little bit better than we used to do in the past in that we're showing people how to really make an impact.”

You can find Casa de Peregrinos on the Las Cruces Community of Hope campus, at 999 Amador Ave, Suite F. You can contact them by phone at 575-532-5542, by email at casadepere@yahoo.com, or on the web at casadeperegrinos.org.