Wednesday, November 24, 2010

EDITORIAL: Puerto Seguro A Relief For Socorrans

By Patrick Jason Rodriguez
Mountain Mail Editor


Thanksgiving is tomorrow. I plan to spend most of the day the same way I’ve done the previous four – visiting with my brother and sister-in-law and my two young nephews. More than likely we’ll eat a large meal, watch one of the football games which will be televised, and discuss local politics, the pros and cons of shopping on Black Friday, where to go for the Christmas holiday, and dinosaurs.
It sounds just about idyllic, I know. And I actually consider myself very lucky to have been the recipient of such an invitation. Plus, I genuinely enjoy learning about dinosaurs.
Of course, there are a lot of people out there who won’t be as fortunate this holiday season. And that train of thought makes me wonder what the clients of Puerto Seguro will be doing.
Puerto Seguro, located at 519 North California Street in Socorro, is a day shelter open between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m., that serves between 20 and 40 low income and handicapped people on any given Monday, Wednesday and Friday (it’s closed on the other four days of the week).
The facility is restricted from allowing overnight guests and the kitchen and dining areas aren’t large enough to host a Thanksgiving feast. Puerto Seguro did, however, on Saturday host a luncheon off-site at the DAV Hall. Due to a prior commitment out of town, I wasn’t able to attend. Those who did attend say that about 200 showed up. 
But this isn’t just about one day out of the year. The spirit of giving at Puerto Seguro is active just about all year round.
I happened to tour the Puerto Seguro facilities on Friday, Nov. 19. My contact there was Joe Griffin, the kitchen manager, who I spoke with on the phone earlier that day. Somehow he knew who I was almost immediately upon my arrival.
Griffin, originally from Philadelphia, where his first taste into the food industry came while working at his father’s hoagie shop at age 16, and has been with Puerto Seguro for about year and a resident of Socorro County for the past 12 years, had just finished preparing the food for the DAV Hall luncheon, and was in the middle of a much deserved break.
We took a seat on a bench outside the facility. He lit a cigarette and told me about the basic day-to-day operations of Puerto Seguro, which at the time I knew very little about. When he was finished, I was taken aback, my faith in humanity renewed.
Puerto Seguro, established in 2000, has a staff that includes anywhere between six and 10 volunteers. All food in the kitchen comes from donations from supermarkets like Smith’s and John Brooks, and local farms such as the Handley Dairy in Veguita.
“We try to serve what I call ‘super food,’” said Griffin, adding that he wouldn’t feel comfortable serving food that was unhealthy, like some other day shelters.
The volunteers are also trained at Puerto Seguro in such a way that they will eventually have the experience to obtain paying jobs elsewhere in the future.
For the next few minutes we talked about whatever. I learned that Griffin comes from a long line of public servants, mostly cops and firefighters, and that he used to work weatherization trainer for the state, helping mostly low income and handicapped persons modify their
utilities so that they consume as little resources as possible, saving them money.
Break time concluded, and the cigarette was tossed.
“Ready to see the kitchen?” he asked.
Moments later we were inside Puerto Seguro. It was exactly how he described it.
The facilities at Puerto Seguro also include a dayroom, equipped with a sofa, a television and periodicals, men’s and women’s bathrooms, laundry facilities, and a storage room with clothing items and basic staples. After a while I was introduced to Duane Baker, the director of Puerto Seguro.
Baker, who’s been with Puerto Seguro for the past four years, is a busy gentleman, a former dispatcher for the Socorro Police Department, and one of those people you’re glad are part of your community. His position at Puerto Seguro only requires him to put in 20 hours of work each week, though Griffin is quick to point out that Baker puts in at least 50 hours without complaint, because he‘s always willing to help, always on call.
Baker generously found the time to talk about Puerto Seguro, though we had to keep moving from one end of the facility to another. He had errands to run, and there was little time to stand around.
Baker expressed regret that Puerto Seguro did not allow for overnight guests, though he did point out that his budget does allow for some now and then to be given a hotel room, in most cases these have been women with young children who are escaping from some
sort of dire situation.
And then there are the heartbreaking stories.
“In the winter it’s especially bad,” said Baker. “One of the hardest things to hear is that some homeless person has been found frozen to death, which has happened before.” After a while, he added, “We do the best we can to keep them out of the elements, and if we can’t we try to direct every client to the right people so that they might have a place to stay for the night.”
After a while Baker excused himself, saying that he had to help with something in another area in the facility.
I returned to the kitchen, where Griffin was preparing a lunch and setting it on a tray. He was making sandwiches and serving bowls of green chile stew for three clients who had come into the facility asking for something to eat.
I looked at my watch and pointed out that it was twenty minutes after two. Griffin seemed confused at why I would mention this. I told him that Puerto Seguro closes at 2 p.m.
Griffin smiled and shook his head, then said, “If we’re still here and there’s someone who’s just come wanting something to eat, there’s no way we are going to turn them away.”

Patrick Jason Rodriguez is the editor of the Mountain Mail. He can be
reached at patrickjasonrodriguez@gmail.com.

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