James Martain, who volunteers with Puerto Seguro Inc/Safe Harbor, gives away fresh food from the side of the building.
Photo courtesy of Shay Kelley

City streets are bright with Christmas decorations and the stores are full of holiday sales but the sound of ringing bells is missing this year. The annual Salvation Army bell ringing fundraiser is a pandemic victim, but the needs of the poor and displaced are even more severe.

“It’s been a very difficult year,” said Shay Kelley, who chairs the board of Puerto Seguro, Inc/Safe Harbor (PSI/Safe Harbor). The day shelter for the area’s poor has seen an increase in clientele as well as an increase in the cost to run the program because of procedural changes.

“This pandemic really affects our folks in a different way,” she said. “The shelter has a phone charging station outside where clients also can access wi-fi. But not having a computer makes it incredibly difficult. You need an ID to access the services,” she said. But the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) only has online services and long waiting times for in person appointments.

The library is closed as well, shutting off access to computers and printing. A lot of people are finding hard to make ends meet, she said. “Everyone in the homeless service is talking about when the moratorium (on evictions) gets lifted. Plus, food insecurity is on the rise.”

Puerto Seguro offers three hot meals a week— Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The number of meals served has gone from 60 to 80 or 90, she said. They also have readyto-eat emergency packets.

“We used to give out 10 to 12 a week. Now it’s 40-70 a week. We are always in need of things like instant ramen noodles, cans of tuna, even chips,” Kelley said. The shelter also is continuing to provide hot showers and laundry facilities following strict health guidelines.

“We’ve been really blessed that we haven’t had any issues (with exposure},” she said. “We are currently providing a delivery food service to anyone in the city of Socorro who has tested positive for the coronavirus and is quarantined at home or at a local hotel. If anyone needs meal delivery service, they can call us at 575.835.2895, email us at shay.psisafeharbor@ gmail.com or message us on Facebook at PSI Safe Harbor, and we will organize a hot meal delivery to their home.”

Still, it’s not just hunger that has increased among their clientele. “For a while, the plaza and parks were closed. That was painful, interrupting the little bit of routine they had. Plus, we’re asking them to isolate. That’s hard to do, especially when you don’t have a home.”

Kelley praised the volunteers who work at the day shelter.

“The volunteers are absolutely phenomenal. They all volunteered to work Christmas, to provide dinner. We give away stockings and cook a traditional Christmas meal.” And, while Puerto Seguro in the past has participated in the organized Salvation Army bell ringing, the non-profit really had no internet presence. “I’m a millennial,” said Kelley, who has worked to add the shelter to social media and have an internet presence.

As part of Giving Tuesday the shelter raised $2,000 of its $5,000 goal, “which is really good,” Kelley said. “I cannot stress enough how honored we are to have the task of distributing resources for the community. We’re blessed that the people of Socorro give Puerto Seguro their blankets, tents, sleeping bags, jackets, hygiene supplies and canned goods, let alone their financial contributions, and we work hard every day to be the best stewards of those gifts.

“We are constantly blown away and humbled by the way this community has shown up to serve their neighbors, especially during a pandemic” she said. “They’ve hand-sewn face masks – we’ve given away over 1,000 face masks since March – bottled hand sanitizer and donated Clorox wipes when there weren’t any to be found on the shelves. They scoured the stores for food items when the supply chains were disrupted, so that we still had plenty of protein, cheese, and vegetables to serve in our meals. People even volunteered to drive around town, doing outreach with socks and meal kits. It has been inspiring.” Kelley said.“This last summer, an anonymous donor contributed specifically to provide a shade structure for the folks socially distancing outside our building, and to help us expand our food pantry and add raised garden beds to the backyard. We planted chiles, tomatoes, squash and melons that we used in our meals. Adding garden fresh produce makes a huge nutritional difference, and we’re honored to have been blessed with those donations.”

And while this has been a tough year, all the shelter’s clients got the traditional Thanksgiving meal with all the trimmings.

“The entire Thanksgiving meal with donated by an anonymous donor in town,” Kelley said.

The annual bell-ringing campaign is a major fundraiser for the non-profit group. The funds raised during the holiday provide funds for many of the shelter’s financial services they provide to the community throughout the year, she said, including utility and rent assistance, hotel rooms for women and children, transportation assistance, and help in obtaining photo ID and birth records, which are needed to apply for housing and to receive a variety of other services.

And while there are no bell-ringers in front of the stores this year, there are other fundraisers and programs available to help with costs. The Salvation Army is offering a roundup program through Walmart, Kelly said. Customers using manned checkouts can round up their purchase price with the change going to the shelter. Puerto Seguro also uses the Amazon Smile program; participants list PSI/Safe Harbor and a small percentage of their purchase price is donated.

“It really adds up for those who shop on Amazon,” she said.

The shelter purchases some of their items online in bulk; items like the paper products and takeout boxes and individual motel soaps and laundry detergents. Kelley put together an online wish list for those items. Donors can choose what to purchase and Amazon will ship it to the shelter.

“Without bell ringing this year, we are relying on people to consider their struggling neighbors and contribute,” Kelley said.

Donations can be made through their website, at www.psisafeharbor.org, or with a check in the mail to PO Box 1433 Socorro NM 87801.

“We also welcome volunteers, and in-kind donations delivered to our building at 519 Old US Hwy 85 S. (across from the Dollar Tree) on Monday, Wednesday or Friday between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.

“We get a lot of food donated,” Kelley said, “So, food is incredibly cheap thanks to community members.”

For Kelley, this year has made it clear that an overnight shelter is needed in Socorro. Puerto Seguro hands out tents and sleeping bags.

“Every night there are between 15 and 25 people sleeping outside. We really need to open a shelter. There are a lot of ideas and it will take the community to make it work. I’m hoping we can awork together in the future.”

Gwen Roath | Guest Writer