A Brief History of Casa de Peregrinos
Casa de Peregrinos has a long and respected history of service in Las Cruces and Dona Ana County. It was founded in April of 1979 by four La Mesa residents: Manuela Moreno, Rosario Rodriguez, Alphonso de los Santos and Lucy Martinez.
They set up in the home of Manuela Moreno, and filed their Articles of Incorporation with the State of New Mexico in April of that year. They launched Casa de Peregrinos (“House of Pilgrims”) with $3,000 in the bank and a lofty vision: to provide shelter, a food-and-clothing bank, and cooperative activities for the homeless. As stated in the Incorporation papers, their intent was to provide “shelter, food, etc. to the homeless and transients” and “to operate a cooperative garden and food bank.”
Three years later, Sister Marsha Corrigan of the Catholic Diocese of El Paso, was assigned the duty of overseeing the Casa de Peregrinos operation. Under her oversight, the group established an advisory committee which recognized that the original scope of their vision might be too broad, and decided to emphasize the food distribution program. They filed an amendment to the Articles of Incorporation the following year to reflect this change in mission. In 1982, Isabel Romero became the first paid employee of Casa de Peregrinos, serving as the office and volunteer manager.
In 1984, Sister Rose Kidd was hired by the Diocese of Las Cruces to direct Casa de Peregrinos, Sister Corrigan having returned to her counseling position. During Sister Rose’s administration, the organization moved to its first office, on Spruce Street in Las Cruces and began the Food Security Program, the flagship of Casa de Peregrinos programs, distributing a basket of food monthly to needy families.
In August 1987, the organization received its nonprofit status from the IRS.
From these humble beginnings, Casa de Peregrinos has grown into the largest and most successful food pantry in Southern New Mexico., serving thousands of families each year in over 20 separate locations. Some of the landmarks in its history include:
1991: Casa de Peregrinos joins an alliance sharing a dream to create a single campus to house agencies whose services provide basic human needs and offer life-changing opportunities such as education, counseling and job training.The Community of Hope was incorporated in March 1993. Today, it consists of five agencies with a long history of serving the poor and homeless.
1993: La Sociedad para las Artes at NMSU holds its first benefit reading for Casa de Peregrinos. This has been an annual event ever since.
1997: Casa de Peregrinos distributes 100 turkeys to families for a Thanksgiving dinner.
1999: Rebeca Renteria hired as Executive Director of Casa de Peregrinos.
2005: Casa de Peregrinos moves into the Community of Hope. Construction of the Community of Hope campus began in 1997 and was divided into three phases. Phase III, the final project of the initial dream, was finished in 2005, and Casa de Peregrinos Emergency Food Bank moved into its current location on West Amador.The grand opening was held on December 1, 2005, with Senator Pete Domenici as the featured speaker. The CdP facility is 4,000 square feet, and was designed to distribute an estimated 500,000 pounds of food per year. The campus is owned by the City of Las Cruces, with Community of Hope serving as the tenant.
2006: Casa de Peregrinos serves 250 families per week, providing a food basket consisting of rice, flour, cheese, beans and tortillas.
2009: 70% of the students in Dona Ana County are eligible for the low cost meal program, and, in some districts this number reaches 95% so the Children’s Summer Program fills an important niche in the lives of low income families in our communities. CdP implements the Summer Program for Children, to assist families with school aged children during the times school is not in session and they have no access to free/reduced cost meals in the school system. In 2016, 482 families, including 1,807 children, benefited from the Children’s Summer Program, with 753 distributions made.
2011: CdP begins the Rural Food Initiative, setting up 13 mobile pantries throughout Dona Ana County to serve clients living near the colonias.
2012: Casa de Peregrinos distributes one million pounds of food in one year.
2013: Casa de Peregrinos distributes 1.45 million pounds of food, averaging 50 pounds of food per distribution.
2014: Casa de Peregrinos undertakes the Food Rescue Program. Food rescue is defined as the practice of “safely retrieving edible food that would otherwise go to waste, and distributing it to those in need” The recovered food is edible but often not salable. Products that are past their sell-by date, or imperfect in any way (such as a bruised apple or day-old bread) are examples of the food acquired through this initiative. The Food Rescue Program resulted in Casa de Peregrinos acquiring over 300,000 pounds of food between March and December of 2014.
2014: Casa de Peregrinos distributes 1.75 million pounds of food
2015: Casa de Peregrinos distributes 2 million pounds of food
2015: Recognizing that the growth in clients served and food distributed has outrun the capacity of the current facility, Casa de Peregrinos decides to seek a new facility. An application is made to the City of Las Cruces to include a request in its Community Initiative Project request to the State Legislature to fund a fifth building on the Community of Hope Campus, to serve as the warehouse and pantry for Casa de Peregrinos.
2016: Casa de Peregrinos begins the Healthy Food Market.
2016: Casa de Peregrinos distributes 2.5 million pounds of food, averaging 85 pounds per family per month. This is in comparison to the average food pantry distribution of 40 pounds per month.
2016:In September, Casa de Peregrinos implements The Senior Mobile Food Pantries and the Student Pantries, bringing the number of mobile pantries to 21. Five pantries are located at the Senior Centers operated by the City of Las Cruces, and two more are located at Dona Ana Community College’s two Las Cruces locations. By December of 2016 all seven pantries are up and operational.
2016: CdP becomes the beneficiary of rescued food distributed by the Arizona Consolidated Food Banks, which are rescuing food from growers in the Nogales area. Clients have been receiving entire boxes of tomatos, eggplant, peppers, winter squash, lettuce, and a wealth of other fruits and vegetables. For only the cost of transport, this unsold food can help families in Las Cruces. We are anticipating receiving 2 truckloads per month until July, a total of almost 60,000 pounds per month.
2016: CdP implements The Healthy Food Market on the fourth Thursday of the month throughout the harvest season. This is an opportunity for client families to receive additional fresh produce to augment the food baskets they receive monthly.
2016: The amount of produce included in food baskets increases from 15-20% in 2011 to 30-50%.
In the years since its founding, Casa de Peregrinos has provided well over a million food distributions to hungry people. A critical link in the safety chain for many, many people, Casa de Peregrinos will be providing food and advocacy for those in need until hunger goes out of business in Doña Ana County.