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What makes Taos, Taos

By Bill Knief

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By the time most people have picked up their copy of this edition of the Taos News, the majority of more than 1,100 Taos citizens will have already picked up their holiday food baskets at the National Guard Armory, courtesy of an extraordinary little group called Taos Feeds Taos. This year my wife Linda and I had the opportunity to help out in the event, and the lessons that we learned in what it means to live in this remarkable community deserve to be shared.

“Food basket” is an understatement, for starters. It’s a big box that, with the ham, the bag of apples and the bag of potatoes weighs upwards of fifty pounds. Try lifting one—let alone one every few minutes for four hours.

Its estimated retail value is around a hundred dollars, and it is designed to feed an average family for close to a week. In four hours on Saturday, volunteers put together enough baskets to nearly fill the basketball court at the armory south of town, and in a week’s time more than 100 volunteers along with the National Guard stepped up to help their neighbors in need. That’s what makes Taos, Taos.

The impressive numbers tell only part of the story. After being off loaded from the Guard trucks an estimated sixty thousand pounds of groceries had to be sorted and boxed—by hand, with volunteer labor, and in record time. Food donations left at drop off locations by individuals amounted to more tonnage. On December 18 and 19 recipients will come to the armory to get their baskets, and the Guard will load their trucks with 350 boxes to be delivered to areas of the county outside the town of Taos—Picuris Pueblo, Penasco, Taos Pueblo, Questa.

If the 1,100 families average only three or four members apiece, the Taos Feeds Taos Board of less than a dozen individuals (along with a small army of volunteers) will have served upwards of ten percent of the population of Taos County. All from donated food, money and muscle in an isolated, rural, economically disadvantaged region. As former mayor and longtime Taos Feeds Taos firebrand Eloy Jeantete stated some years back, the people who are able to volunteer to serve their neighbors might just be the biggest beneficiaries of the program. That’s what makes Taos, Taos.

The rest of the story is that this has been going on for twenty three years with the help of service groups, businesses, new arrivals and lifetime locals who can’t stand by and watch their neighbors struggle without offering whatever help they can. To list everyone who has played a role in keeping this and the multitude of other fine nonprofit organizations going over the years would require an extra section of the paper, but suffice it to say that there is no shortage of good will, strong backs and willing citizens as TFT approaches the quarter century mark.

Many years ago when I was a stringer for KOAT Action 7 News I asked General Edward Baca, then commander of the National Guard for the entire country, what he thought of Taos Feeds Taos. He said simply that he wished that every town in the U.S. that had a National Guard facility could have a program based on the Taos model.

That’s a pretty strong endorsement for any small town, but consider what has happened just recently around here: in the national election Taos County had the highest, or one of the highest, per capita turnouts for the president elect in the entire nation. In a few months our community college will be one of the first, if not the first, college campus in the country to be totally powered by sustainable solar energy. Our creativity, artistry and respect for multicultural diversity are widely recognized and respected. It’s starting to look like our town is taking on a leadership role that stretches far beyond our boundaries.

But that’s just what makes Taos, Taos.

A GRADUATION AND A NEW BEGINNING

Last Friday I met a young man named Jose Melendez who showed up to help separate groceries at the armory. He was one of the first to arrive, because, he said, he was graduating from the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps program and he would have to leave at noon to make it to the ceremony.

Jose, a native of Las Cruces who plans to start his own landscaping business, said he had never seen anything like Taos Feeds Taos.

“We could use something like this in Cruces. We weren’t really rich when I was younger and I was struggling. Hard times, you know. I learned landscaping by doing neighbors’ yards. A lot of people would give me work, and thank God, because that got me by. It feels good when people like your work.

“I picked up a lot of skills at Rocky Mountain, like using teamwork; working as a team. I had to complete 1,700 hours to get this scholarship to go to school and complete the program. I’ve always had this dream to start my own business, and I have already enrolled at UNM-Taos. I will be taking a small business course and a woodworking class that will help me reach my goal.”

Saturday morning he was back. When the last box had been packed, I asked him why he had spent his Saturday after graduation in a cold, drafty armory packing pinto beans instead of taking a little time off to celebrate. He laughed.

“For one, you’ve got to give back to your community. It’s a good feeling to go home and know you did something that will benefit a lot of people.”

RED WILLOW

Mildred Young, the first UNM-Taos advisor for Native American students, organized a first-ever Lobo Night last week at Taos Pueblo’s Red Willow Education Center.

“I like the idea of advising students closer to home,” she said. “It’s less intimidating. Some students don’t quite understand the ropes yet, and that’s where I come in. Sometimes if they don’t quite understand in English I can interpret in Tewa, and putting the two languages together really helps.”

Those who attended Lobo Night were able to speak with advisors, register for classes, fill out application forms, take Compass tests for proper placement in reading, math and English classes, and discuss financial aid—all without waiting in line or making an appointment. Young was pleased with the turnout and praised Student Success Director Amie Chavez-Aguilar for making the event happen, along with support from UNM-Taos Advisory Board President Patrick Romero and UNM-Taos Director Dr. Kate O’Neill.

FILMS SUPPORTING LIBRARIES

The UNM-Taos library, open to the public, and Taos Day School library, open to Taos Pueblo residents, stand to benefit from two New Mexico’s Governor’s Cup award winning short films to be presented Saturday, December 20 at the Bareiss Gallery just east of the Old Blinking Light intersection. Rick Romancito’s “Benito’s Gift” and Rick Aragon’s “Coyote Tales: Mystery’s Night” will begin at 7 pm, and ticket proceeds will benefit both libraries.

About The Bill Knief

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