Susan Armijo, kitchen manager at the Lighthouse Mission, prepares a meal for mission administrator Richard Gomez. (staff photo by Darrell Todd Maurina)
By Darrell Todd Maurina
A Clovis ministry that feeds up to 80 people a day could close next year unless it replaces its kitchen equipment to comply with state regulations.
The expected cost will be at least $140,000 and probably more, according to Lighthouse Mission administrator Richard Gomez.
Gomez said he hasn’t yet given much thought to what would happen if the mission can’t raise that much money.
“We haven’t gotten as far as that because my faith is we are going to do it, but the consequences would be a lot of hungry people,” Gomez said.
“Everything needs to be upgraded,” Gomez said. “There is a lot of electrical and stuff that needs to be done and the building we use is not ours. (The owners) are letting us use the building free.”
According to a letter from the Clovis field office of the New Mexico Environment Department, Lighthouse Mission’s current kitchen equipment has been “grandfathered” despite not meeting state standards for commercial food preparation. State regulations require that grandfathered equipment not be used more than five years after a waiver is granted by the agency, and the letter advised Lighthouse Mission that it cannot continue to use its current equipment beyond Aug. 1, 2005.
While the mission could install new kitchen equipment at its current location, Gomez said that wouldn’t be wise because the mission doesn’t own its building and the seating space is already cramped. The mission owns vacant property at the 400 block of L. Casillas Street, just a few blocks from its current location on the 100 block of South Connelly, and has drafted plans for an 8,000-square-foot building that would house its kitchen, dining room, clothing bank and offices.
Gomez said the Lighthouse Mission has been in existence 16 years and food has been served for eight of those years. The mission also provides clothing and housing to needy people in Clovis and those functions could continue, but the daily food kitchen is one of the program’s most popular functions.
“We serve meals Monday through Thursday, lunch and breakfast, and on Friday we serve a sack lunch,” Gomez said. “Toward the end of the month we average around 80 people. In the beginning of the month it’s not as much because people have their Social Security or welfare checks.”
Raising the money could be a challenge, Gomez said. The complete annual operating budget for the privately run nonprofit corporation is $160,000, much of which comes from local churches and individual donations.
The Rev. Scott Blazek, pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church, said his congregation supports the ministry and would like to see more churches get involved.
“If we can multiply the 10 or 11 churches that are now a part of that cooperative into two or three times that number, I think we could be much more efficient and avoid people abusing charity,” Blazek said. “To me, having different food pantries in each church just encourages people to go church-hopping from church to church. It makes it more efficient and it pares down abuse of charity by running people through a general clearinghouse of Christian care.
“The worst thing about the con artists who come into our community is they steal our charitable spirit,” Blazek said. “I tell people who come to see us, if you really have a need, Richard will do whatever he can to meet it.”