Article in The Albuquerque Tribune: As price of gas soars, local charities struggle

With the average cost of gasoline hitting $2.11 a gallon around the state, New Mexico motorists are feeling the pinch at the pump.

But for local nonprofits, that pinch can turn into a punch.

Roadrunner Food Bank, which provides food to impoverished New Mexicans, is likely to order about 2 million pounds less of food this year because of the cost of shipping it into the state, said Melody Wattenbarger, executive director of the organization.

“That’s millions of meals that are not happening,” she said. “This year probably will be the first year in many years that we’ve distributed less food than the previous year.”

As recently as December 2004, Roadrunner paid $378 a week to fuel the five delivery trucks in its fleet, Wattenbarger said. The bill is now $511 a week, a 35 percent increase.

“It’s just devastating,” she said.

ARCA, an organization serving developmentally disabled people, is paying about $1,500 more per month to fuel its fleet than it budgeted for, said Executive Director Elaine Solimon.

On top of that, its staff members are getting reimbursed for gasoline at 37 cents a mile, up from 30 cents a mile, the rate it had been for years, Solimon said.

“It’s hitting us hard,” she said. “Well have to cut back other places within the organization.”

Jeannie Chavez, a spokeswoman for AAA New Mexico, said the group put the average cost Tuesday for a gallon of gas at $2.11 around the state, up 26 percent from $1.67 a year ago.

In Albuquerque, motorists are paying $2.09 a gallon on average, up 27 percent from the $1.65 a gallon it cost last year.

And nationally, a gallon of gas costs $2.10 on average, up 21 percent from $1.73 a year prior.

Chavez said New Mexico’s gas prices have risen almost every day since March 9, a pattern of leaps she finds remarkable. In the past, two-cent or three-cent weekly price fluctuations for a gallon of gas were considered significant. But this year, AAA has seen weekly prices going up, in some cases, by up to 10 cents a gallon.

She said prices might lower when the demand for gasoline drops, but as warmer weather takes hold and more people hit the clear roads, it’s unlikely to happen anytime soon.

The primary force behind high gasoline prices is the cost for a barrel of crude oil, said Bob Gallagher, president of the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association.

Two years ago, a barrel cost about $30, he said. The price is now about $56.

Gallagher said China, a country whose economy has grown astronomically the past few years, has placed heavy demands on the worldwide supply of oil, thus driving up its price. Other factors influencing the price include political or economic instability in oil-supplying regions such as the Middle East, South America and Russia, he said.

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