At last count, COVID-19 has infected nearly 100,000 El Pasoans and taken the lives of more than 1,300, and since the virus came around in March, there are many heroes who’ve grappled with this plague to keep people alive and healthy.
In that time, nearly 103,000 people in the El Paso region have applied for unemployment benefits through Workforce Solutions.
It is hard to imagine where El Paso would be and what kind of news would be coming out of this city were it not for El Pasoans Fighting Hunger and the food bank’s CEO, Susan Goodell, the winner of El Paso Inc.’s Community Spirit Award for 2020.
In the first eight months of this year, the food bank has provided 118 million pounds of food to El Pasoans.
That works out to 98 million meals – three times last year’s number – that would not have been provided otherwise to the thousands who drive up to the food line at 9541 Plaza Circle every day.
At times, Goodell’s ability to find new food sources coming to an area where there is little produced locally has seemed almost miraculous because the loaves just keep coming.
That now includes a $9 million gift announced two weeks ago by philanthropist MacKenzie Scott.
It was a highly competitive process that led to the award, which will now provide more security for the future than the four-year-old food bank has ever enjoyed.
“This incredible gift adds a level of strength and stability that this food bank has desperately needed,” Goodell said.
It’s also more than the total given out by the world’s biggest food bank last year.
That money will go a long way toward providing free food to El Pasoans as well as residents of Hudspeth and Culbertson County. In this three-county area, 23% of the population lives in poverty and is food insecure.
The food bank’s success at meeting local needs this year has also been made possible by the help of hundreds of volunteers and the food bank’s staff.
On Dec. 17, the call went out for more on Facebook: “Can you lend a hand? All hands on deck. The need for food assistance has almost tripled in 2020. We need volunteers to help us meet this demand.”
Realizing that some people could not get to the food bank, Goodell partnered with Lyft, the ride-sharing service, which is now delivering more than 2,000 meals to people’s homes a week.
El Paso attorney Stuart Schwartz, president of the El Pasoans Fighting Hunger nonprofit board, said the food bank staff has been extraordinary at meeting great needs day in and day out, but the credit for keeping the food coming goes to Goodell.
“She’s had the vision and the will to appropriately respond to food insecurity resulting from the pandemic and the exponential growth in demand for food,” he said. “She has been remarkable, going out to find every single dollar she can to help us through this crisis and to motivate her staff to respond appropriately.”
Food is a family enterprise for Susan Goodell and her husband, Warren. He’s the executive director of the Kelly Center for Hunger Relief at 915 N. Florence St.
Last March, he recalled, they decided to take a long-overdue vacation to Washington State.
“So, we got in the car and started driving, and at the end of the first day, COVID hit, and Susan spent the entire week in the car or in the hotel room trying to put the pieces in place for the food bank to manage this,” he said. “She hardly looked out the window at the beautiful scenery, and that’s kind of how it’s been for the past nine months.”
Email El Paso Inc. reporter David Crowder at email@example.com or call (915) 630-6622.