TAOS, N.M. (KRQE) – St. James Episcopal Church in Taos has had its food pantry running out of the church building for forty years. Now, the operation is getting so big, the church says the pantry needs its own building. It wants to build its own grocery store-like facility next to the church. But neighbors are raising concerns.

At the peak of the pandemic, the church said it was providing supplemental groceries to 5% of Taos County. While the need has slowed down since then, the church said it still gives bags of food to up to 450 families a week. “The size of the operation has gotten to such a large degree that it’s impacting church functions,” said Jack Nottingham, architect and church member, at a Planning and Zoning Commission meeting earlier this month.

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St. James is applying for a conditional use permit to build a nearly 5,000 square foot building next to the church for a food pantry that would operate like a grocery store. “Where our guests can come in and they have the dignity of choice and they have the dignity of shopping like they would at any other regular grocery store. It’s not going to feel like a food pantry, it’s not going to feel like a bread line,” said David Hines, Dir. of Food Pantry Ministries at St. James Episcopal Church.

But not all neighbors are on board. “My concern is safety, security, all the vehicles coming in and out,” said Jennifer, a neighbor of the church, at the Planning and Zoning Commission meeting.

In addition to concerns about increased traffic, neighbors said guests and volunteers of the pantry often trespass on parts of their property. One neighbor wrote a letter to the commission saying, she’s been ‘horrified’ by the ‘lack of respect’ pantry guests and volunteers have for people living in the neighborhood.

“We do have volunteers, folks that come and help out, and needs to be managed better,” said Nottingham.

The church said it has about 20-25 volunteers who operate the pantry on Thursdays. The church also said it conducted a traffic study which found adding this building would not impact traffic in the area.

The Planning and Zoning Commission approved the church’s permit request with the conditions they address the neighborhood’s concerns. The church is considering opening the food pantry more than one day a week to spread traffic out. It is also considering using the facility for other outreach services.