The goal was simple: Raise $100,000 to help Santa Feans who lost their jobs because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But organizers of the Empty Pantry Fund said they are elated donors contributed nearly $219,000 to purchase hundreds of gift cards worth $200 each to help those in need.

“It was really nice to see that people were so generous and considerate as to what the pandemic is putting us through,” said Chad Gasper, a finance and philanthropy associate for the Santa Fe Community Foundation, which teamed with the Santa Fe New Mexican and other partners to publicize and operate the fund.

The New Mexican has long played a role in helping those in need during the holiday season through the Empty Stocking Fund. But as the COVID-19 crisis took hold, former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson approached the newspaper about creating a fund to help workers in the hospitality industry who found themselves out of work and unable to pay bills.

The fund allows area residents who’ve lost their jobs during the crisis to apply for a $200 gift card to buy food at a local grocery store. Over time, as the fund grew, the umbrella expanded to include those who are ill, homeless or have other needs.

Organizers say volunteers by the end of this week will have delivered nearly 1,100 gift cards throughout Santa Fe County.

Dolores Lopez is one of those volunteers. The former school counselor, who is long accustomed to helping students, teachers and parents, said she learned about the spirit of giving from her father, the late Gregorio Lopez, a U.S. Navy veteran.

“He always told me, ‘If you give with a good heart, it will come back in multitudes,’ ” she said as she planned another afternoon of deliveries Friday. “And it does.”

She said she arranges to meet people either at their homes or in a public place, depending on their situation. She figures she has delivered somewhere between 150 to 200 cards already.

When the recipients see her with the card, they “cry, they tell me their stories, and I listen.”

The stories vary in specifics, but all have a common theme: loss.

“Their son has cancer. They lost their jobs. Their children are hungry,” she said. “One lady asked me if she could save it and spend it on Thanksgiving dinner. I said, ‘Of course you can.’ ”

The Empty Pantry program, she said, is a necessity these days.

“Everybody is so grateful and needy,” she said. “It’s a time of hurt.”

The New Mexican’s Empty Stocking Fund will soon accept contributions to help people in the community during the holidays.

General Assignment Reporter

Robert Nott has covered education and youth issues for the Santa Fe New Mexican. He is assigned to The New Mexican's city desk where he covers a general assignment beat.

(2) comments

Earl James

And the application forms are “unavailable” At both the Santa Fe Community Foundation and the Santa Fe New Mexican websites!

Earl James

In the application forms for this at both the new Mexican, and the community foundation, our “currently Unavailable”!

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