The end of February marked the end of emergency allotments to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, otherwise known as SNAP, and Lynda Middleton of the Samaritan Center in Magdalena expects to see more people needing its services.

The Center provides 120 bags and boxes of food per month and serves over 55 families from Magdalena, Alamo, and surrounding areas by providing an offsite food distribution each month, a weekly free food pantry and thrift shop.

“It went down a little bit during COVID, but now we expect it to go up again with the emergency federal SNAP benefits going away as of this month,” Middleton said.

The SNAP emergency allotments allowed for a family of three to receive a maximum of $740 each month in SNAP benefits. This month the same family of three goes back to receiving an average amount of $335 per month.

Benefits for a single person with no income drop from $376 monthly to $281.

“So, we expect to see an increase from that,” she said.

The Magdalena Samaritan Center supports food donations through thrift store sales.
John Larson | El Defensor Chieftain photos

Started in 2001 as a non-profit grassroots entity by a handful of volunteers who wanted to put the words “love thy neighbor” into practice, the Samaritan Center has become a goodwill fixture in the community.

Its humble beginnings 22 years ago were in a time-worn adobe building on Second Street between Main and Spruce owned by artist Gerald Kerwin. Heated solely by a pot-bellied stove, the shop sold all donated clothing and necessities for just a quarter and served hot stew or posole to the homeless out of a crockpot.

That sparse thrift store and food pantry has come a long way since then. Middleton announced that it recently became the owner of the building on Main Street it has occupied for the past six years.

Middleton, who has been associated with the center since its beginnings, said with support from individual benefactors and continued support during the pandemic, “the Samaritan Center’s Board of Directors felt it was in a position to acquire the property.

“Fortunately, the previous owner of the building, the Estate of Marky Bamert, was willing to accept a very favorable price,” Middleton said. “Marky had been a longtime resident of Socorro when she moved up to Magdalena, purchasing several properties including the Main Street building and opening a gallery, Peppers, where she welcomed visitors and community members on a daily basis.”

Without having to pay rent, the Center can now afford to purchase more food and staples.

The Samaritan Center does not receive funding from Roadrunner Food Bank, she said.

“The Center purchases food from Roadrunner, through a partnership grant,” Middleton said. “We can order from Roadrunner every two weeks. Sometimes we go down and buy food from John Brooks with money we raise.”

Some of the needed money comes from fundraisers.

“We’ve been doing our bake sales regularly, and we’re planning to do a spaghetti dinner in June,” Middleton said. “That’s a big fundraiser for us. Everybody makes their own special sauces in crockpots, and we sell a plate. Then we have our silent auction.”

That raises as much as a thousand dollars, she said

“We’re looking at doing it at the Parish Hall this year,” she said. “Because we don’t know what’s going on with the senior center these days.

“And all of those funds, anything we raise like that – any fundraisers, our bake sales – all of that goes to the funds to pay, primarily, food,” she said. “We don’t have that much overhead now that we own our building, and there are no employees because we’re a total volunteer operation.”

Purchasing the building that the store occupies will save on rent and put more money toward food.

The thrift shop at 102 S. Main Street provides the bulk of the funding.

“That and donations from people,” she said. “We have the Friends of the Samaritan Center, whose members pay $10 a month, so that accounts for $120 each year for each member, but we will have people who might donate more.”

Donations of clothes and household items are accepted during the Center’s business hours; 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays and Thursdays, and 10 a.m. to noon on Saturdays.

“The thrift store takes almost everything,” she said. “We can’t take furniture because we don’t have room, and for the most part, we don’t take electronics. Almost everything is 50 cents unless we mark it a little high if it’s better quality.”

The center boasts a roster of about 30 volunteers, with a core group running the thrift store and a larger cadre of helpers for the Roadrunner food distribution at the rodeo grounds.

“We’re starting to get some younger volunteers,” she said. “All our other ones were mostly retired, and every year we get a year older and a little bit weaker. The hardest thing, probably, is doing our food distribution at the rodeo grounds. We give out about 50 pounds of food per family unit and our volunteers are loading that into the cars, you know. Big heavy boxes. It’s been a challenge.”

The Samaritan Center food bank and the monthly food distribution at the fairgrounds are only open to residents in Magdalena and surrounding areas.

“All of this is made possible through the support of the Magdalena community with donations of goods and money,” Middleton said. “And, it’s become a popular place to come in and say hello. I think we’ve gotten volunteers because we have new people who come into town and come in to shop or donate. We encourage them to volunteer because it’s how they get to meet other people in town.”