LAS CRUCES >> An event that recalls a very dark moment in U.S. history has, in turn, provided a ray of light in efforts to fight hunger today.
At last Sunday's 25th annual Bataan Memorial Death March at White Sands Missile Range, marchers combined to donate 20,879 pounds of food for Roadrunner Food Bank. The donations will allow the food bank to distribute an additional 17,400 meals in southern New Mexico, according to a news release from the nonprofit agency.
"Thank you to each participant," Melody Wattenbarger, food bank president and chief executive officer, said in a prepared statement. "You graciously elected to contribute the food you hauled an exhausting 26 miles. Your honorable gift will allow so many New Mexicans experiencing hunger to have a meal in one of the hungriest states in our nation."
Many of the 6,210 participants in this year's commemorative march carried 35-pound ruck sacks to symbolize some of the hardships that American and Filipino military personnel experienced during the Bataan Death March in April 1942. For at least the past six years, organizers of the march and WSMR officials have encouraged marchers to fill their ruck sacks with canned goods and non-perishable foods that could then be donated to food banks and other agencies.
"It's an important part of Bataan and White Sands Missile Range," said Monte Marlin Rout, WSMR spokeswoman. "We want to be able to give back."
Roadrunner Food Bank also benefitted from last year's march. Altogether, 13,882 pounds of food was collected from the ruck sacks of numerous marchers last year, and that food provided an extra 11,568 meals to hungry southern New Mexicans.
That is significant, considering New Mexico is ranked number one for childhood hunger and second for overall hunger, according to Feeding America, a nonprofit network of food banks that feeds more that 37 million people through food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters in communities across the U.S.
Roadrunner Food Bank operates in Albuquerque and Las Cruces.
Last year, Roadrunner distributed more than 26 million pounds of food statewide through a collaboration of its own programs, a network of partner agencies, and regional food banks. The food bank helps nearly 40,000 children, senior citizens and adults on a weekly basis.
Last year, Roadrunner Food Bank kept 22 million pounds of food out of landfills through its Food Rescue Program.