BELEN — The previous home of Belen Fire and Rescue 8 now has a new type of “rescue” mission — providing food for the community.

The Belen Area Food Pantry has found a new, temporary home on South Sixth Street after a year of looking. In July 2021, the pantry’s board of directors was told it needed to vacate the building it has occupied for several years on South Third Street because the owner — Belen Consolidated Schools — had agreed to lease the space to the Rocket Teen Center.

Joe Portio, the president of the BAFP, said the pantry is working with the city of Belen to get a lease in place to relocate the food pantry into the city’s old fire station at 116 S. Sixth Street.

“It still needs to go to the city council and, if it’s approved, we should reopen in mid August,” Portio said, noting the pantry’s last distribution from the Third Street location was last week.

Bright and early, last Thursday, a six-person crew from Sanchez Demolition showed up and in a little more than two hours had moved the pantry to the old fire station, lock, stock and lentils.

“Those guys were so great. They got us moved in about 2 1/2 hours,” Portio said. “And the city has been so cooperative. They have bent over backwards. We’ve gotten the biggest support from the city manager and Charles Eaton (the city’s administrative support director).”

Julia M. Dendinger | News-Bulletin photo
Belen Area Food Pantry president Joe Portio, right, talks to long-time pantry volunteer Tom Bradley about how to best organize the pantry’s new space on South Sixth Street, the old city of Belen fire station.

While the old fire station is a bit smaller than the building on Third Street — 2,300 square feet versus 2,600 square feet — Portio said there aren’t a lot of drawbacks to the new location.

“We have four freezers and three refrigerators which all run off of 110, not 220, so those aren’t an issue,” he said. “We will be putting in a cooling room that can hold five pallets of fresh vegetables and fruit.”

The plan is to be in the old fire station for 12 to 18 months, Portio said, then the pantry will hopefully make its last move to a permanent location.

The First Presbyterian Church in Rio Communities has offered to sell a quarter acre to the food pantry for a new building, which will be owned by the nonprofit.

“That’s our ultimate goal,” he said.

When the pantry resumes services, Portio said customers will be asked to drive west on Castillo Avenue then north on Sixth Street to pick up food boxes.

“We will be talking to everyone in the area, letting them know who we are and what we do,” he said. “You could live next to a place like this, not know what we offer and need food.

“Right now, it’s killing us to not be distributing food. We really see people at their most vulnerable and we know there are people out there in need.”

The pantry distributes food to people living within the Belen Consolidated Schools district starting at 9 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The pantry provides food to about 1,200 people a month.

Portio said they usually hand out about 70 boxes of food each distribution and they go quickly, so he recommended residents come early.

Clients of the food pantry are asked to register once a year and need to supply proof of address that shows they live in the school district, a photo ID and provide contact information so the pantry can alert them to any food recalls.

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Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.