The Power of Community Volunteerism

Raised Keyhole Beds from 2nd Sat

On a beautiful warm Saturday in March 14, 2015, the Rio Grande Food Project welcomed over 100 volunteers to perform various onsite projects. The volunteers, members of Sagebrush Community Church, were participating in the church’s monthly, Second Saturday event, wherein a large group of volunteers converge on a nonprofit for one day to serve the community.

Rio Grande Food Project is the largest food pantry on Albuquerque’s west side. We have grown considerable in the past few years, almost doubling the number of empty bellies filled 28,900 in 2012 to 45,000 in 2014. We have also doubled the amount of meals served to hungry New Mexicans, with 1.3 million meals in 2014 versus 600,000 in 2013.

On this second Saturday, the Sagebrush volunteers went to work welcoming and registering clients, packing and distributing food boxes, distributing free clothes from the church mobile clothing closet, painting an outdoor storage unit, cleaning up the grounds and parking lot, removing a large bed of cactus , repacking 4,000 pounds of dry goods and expanding the community garden.

It was this last project that yielded surprising results. Not only did the volunteers complete weeding out the old garden, they managed to build 4 extra raised, keyhole beds and 2 composting bins. They trenched sixty feet of ollas for a future raised bed. About 30 volunteers helped with shoveling the trench, planting the ollas and burying them. The same group, built the keyhole beds with concrete bricks, recycle cardboard and wire. The finished beds, resembled little mini-volcanoes. All of the equipment (shovels, rakes and a trencher) and materials (brick, soil, cardboard, wiring) were donated in-kind from members of the community.

These raised beds will allow the Rio Grande Food Project to begin gardening on a different level. We plan to develop an educational program for our hungry customers focusing on gardening and healthy food options. Plus, those people that maintain the garden get to keep a portion of what is grown. The rest will be given to the food pantry to serve other hungry folk.

Volunteers are the driving force behind the mission of the Rio Grande Food Project. In fact, the pantry would not exist without them. On any given day, 15-20 volunteers work to achieve the food pantry’s activities. They serve food to hungry people by assembling food boxes, organizing shelves, rotating inventory and unloading deliveries. They greet customers on service days and enter their data into computers. They repackage dry food for distribution. They assist with administrative and clerical work. They maintain the donor database and thank the people who support us with money and food. . And with the expansion of the garden, volunteers will be growing food so that we can give out more fresh, healthy produce to hungry children, youth, adults and seniors.

If you are interested in volunteering with Rio Grande Food Project, sign up online at or call (505) 831-3778 and ask for Robert Nelson.

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