Roadrunner Food Bank of New Mexico is a distribution hub that serves a network of hunger relief organizations across the state. Besides food, the nonprofit also provides tablets and Mobile Citizen Internet hotspots to food pantries, soup kitchens, and other distribution partners, empowering them to gather helpful data and improve the food line experience site by site.
For most of us, thoughts of gathering at the table for holidays, special occasions, and even weeknight dinners conjure up the sights and smells of steaming casseroles, gooey desserts, or something smoking on the grill. But not everyone can relate: tens of thousands of our neighbors in each state face hunger and food insecurity every week.
Feeding America, the largest nonprofit working to end hunger in the United States, states that “Millions of people in America are just one job loss, missed paycheck, or medical emergency away from hunger.” People struggling with hunger are often grappling with other hardships at the same time, such as housing insecurity, low-wage jobs, reduction of work hours, medical issues, college education costs, lack of affordable housing, and discrimination. Hunger is a complex issue that touches every community in every state and is often a symptom of poverty. Fortunately, food banks like Roadrunner Food Bank of New Mexico are getting creative in how they’re meeting the immediate needs of people facing hunger.
Food Insecurity in New Mexico
New Mexico has a statewide population of 2.1 million, and tens of thousands of residents need food assistance each week to live active, healthy, and productive lives. According to Feeding America, one in every seven New Mexicans face hunger. The statistics are even more startling when you focus on youth: through no fault of their own, one in every five children in New Mexico are at risk for hunger.
Roadrunner Food Bank of New Mexico has been working to change the harsh reality of hunger in New Mexico for more than 40 years. The Albuquerque-based organization sources and redistributes over 32 million pounds of food every year to more than 340 partner organizations so they can feed children, students, seniors, disabled individuals, veterans, and low-income families who wouldn’t have enough to eat otherwise. Providing nourishing food to people experiencing hunger is Roadrunner’s tactical mission, but this 501(c)(3) nonprofit is striving to accomplish even more.
“The less time our neighbors have to spend in a food line, the less stigma they feel,” explained Sarah Haynes, Co-Senior Director of Programs at Roadrunner Food Bank. “We want to give them the dignity of a streamlined process, so it looks more like a quick trip to the grocery store instead of a long wait in a food line.”
To accomplish this, the team at Roadrunner needs as much information as they can get from partners who are distributing the food at soup kitchens, senior centers, clinics, food pantries, and other hunger relief organizations. Who better to gather data and learn about the unique situations of low-income and food-insecure New Mexicans than those who are directly working to feed them?
On a Mission to Take the Stigma Out of Food Lines
Roadrunner Food Bank is rolling out a platform called “Service Insights” to its food distribution partners, so they can efficiently register community members moving through the food lines and track helpful data. But the platform doesn’t work without Internet access.
“Our distribution partner sites might be in church basements, parking lots, or in very rural and frontier communities,” said Haynes. “While the state is looking to expand broadcast services, some of our partners are in places where Internet service is either out of budget, doesn’t reach beyond their building, or simply does not exist.
If Roadrunner wanted to collect data from locations like these, they needed to find a mobile Internet services provider who could help them get their partners connected affordably. Thanks to the due diligence of a previous co-worker, they found Mobile Citizen. Mobile Citizen offers mobile hotspots and up to 5G LTE mobile Internet service with unlimited data exclusively to schools, libraries, social service agencies, and nonprofits like Roadrunner Food Bank for $120 per year.
“Instead of paying $40 to $50 a month in data costs per Internet hotspot, Mobile Citizen’s $10 a month means we can devote more dollars to feeding our neighbors instead of operating costs,” explained Becky Gomolka, Service Insights Coordinator for Roadrunner Food Bank. “We’re really grateful for that.” Gomolka also praised Mobile Citizen customer service. As one example, she described how much easier it was to change over to 5G than she expected in the spring of 2022: “I assumed there would be some work required on our end, but Mobile Citizen really made the upgrade to 5G painless for us.”
Since 2020, Roadrunner Food Bank has purchased 58 mobile hotspot devices from Mobile Citizen. The team uses hotspots for the nonprofit’s own community-based food distributions and provides hotspots to food distribution partners throughout the state as well. “Our partners are an extension of what we do in food assistance. To be able to work through them and collect that data to understand the health challenges, income inequality, housing insecurity, etc., helps us really address the issues that are contributing to hunger,” said Haynes. “Working with Mobile Citizen and having solid dependable mobile Internet service in all of these places has been a game-changer.”
Aside from registration data required by government food programs, any additional data is always optional and confidential. It has also been invaluable to the team at Roadrunner Food Bank to provide insights that help them advocate for the people they serve. According to Haynes, “We are utilizing the data from our partners to show why it’s important to raise the SNAP poverty level threshold from 185% to 200%, and we can demonstrate that our partners saw service visits increase by four times when New Mexico and federal requirements removed pandemic-era SNAP allotments on March 1.” Haynes said the data also helps the team write better grant proposals. “The flow of shared knowledge helps funders understand the importance of providing this source of technology and Internet access to our partners. It all works together in this wonderful chain, and Mobile Citizen is very much a part of that,” she concluded.
Getting Connected with Mobile Hotspots for Nonprofits
Haynes and the rest of the team believe that mobile hotspots and tablets enrich and empower Roadrunner Food Bank’s partners. “Our partners aren’t always super tech savvy, but they talk about how easy it is to use the Mobile Citizen hotspots and the tablets,” said BriAnna Koehler, Training and Implementation Coordinator. “My favorite thing about food banking is that we get to make these great connections with the community. And I think that using our Service Insights platform really fosters those connections because it encourages everyone to really get out there and chat with community members.”
Koehler is one of many Roadrunner Food Bank employees and community volunteers who work Roadrunner food distribution events throughout the year. At one of the food bank’s largest distributions, 4,700 adults and children were served over three days for the Thanksgiving holiday.
Whatever the time of year, Mobile Citizen is proud to support Roadrunner Food Bank’s mission with low-cost Internet and low-fuss technology. Affordable Wi-Fi hotspots from Mobile Citizen help nonprofit organizations bridge gaps in Internet access and promote equity in their communities. To explore opportunities for your nonprofit, please contact our experts in the Mobile Citizen Customer Service Center at 877-216-9603.
Visit rrfb.org to learn more about Roadrunner Food Bank’s hunger-relief services in New Mexico.