on Aging. "That's why we try to emphasize nutritional content, because there are some people who won't have another high-quality meal."
Food anxieties
    Deming resident Darline Reno, 64, said the federal food commodity program she discovered three months ago has been a godsend.
    Reno moved to New Mexico from Montana three years ago because propane gas bills ate up half her $600-a-month Social Security income during Montana's harsh winters. Even with a low monthly rent of $140 for a motor-home space, she is still strapped.
    "I'd be really lost if I didn't have this," said Reno, who has stretched her food budget with lots of macaroni and butter in the past. "I'm on such a low income that I almost have to have it."
    Mark Nord, a sociologist in the USDA's Economic Research Service and the study's lead author, said some of the concern about the USDA survey stems from public confusion about the difference between "food insecurity" and hunger, and the mistaken impression that 15.1 percent of the state's population goes hungry.
    Worrying about getting enough to eat does not necessarily mean a person goes hungry, Nord said. Rather, a household insecure about its food supply needs outside help to get enough food to live healthily, Nord said.
    The USDA survey found that, of the 10 million households nationwide that were worried about food, about one-third -- 3.7 million -- were hungry.
    And those hunger pangs could

have been experienced by some family member at some time during the preceding year.
    "The actual incidence of daily hunger is much lower than 3.5 percent" of all households nationwide, Nord said. "There are probably people who are considered food insecure, but they may not necessarily go hungry -- they may have assistance from extended family, get government assistance or community help. And some don't actually go hungry but skimp on meals. Food insecure is a mixture of all those things."
    Still, the USDA survey pointed out that many New Mexicans get help putting enough food on the table -- or need help.
Skipping meals
    Gallup resident Manuel Chavez, 45, said bureaucratic "red tape" has discouraged him from seeking food aid from government or private sources. But the lean handyman could use a hand.
    Chavez, who last worked a regular job a year ago, supports himself with odd jobs like drawing tattoos or making inlaid silver jewelry. But with wages of $100 a week when jobs come in, he barely scrapes by. He lives in a rickety wooden house that once belonged to his late grandmother, and he does not have a car, a phone or hot water. His house is warmed by a simple wood-burning stove -- a 55-gallon drum with legs and a vent through the roof.
    His lone daily meal is usually lunch, often beans, potatoes or hamburger.
    "I'll usually save a portion of it, so if I'm hungry (later) I'll just eat that," said Chavez, munching slowly on a flour tortilla during a recent inter

view at his home.
    While derived from a different study population, the USDA report underscored results of a 1996 study by the state Department of Health. The state survey of 300 people in food-stamp offices in
Albuquerque and Las Cruces revealed that 59 percent skipped meals in the previous month because they lacked money to buy food, and 21 percent had skipped a meal on the previous day.
    Ronald Voorhees, deputy epidemiologist for the state Department of Health, called the 1996 survey results surprising because "our hope was that people getting food stamps would not be experiencing hunger."
    Voorhees added: "Those not receiving food stamps would be even more likely to experience hunger."
Ongoing struggle
    Until this month, 45-year-old Michael Franco, an unemployed and disabled single man in Gallup who collects $900 a month in Social Security income, had never taken advantage of programs offering free or reduced-price food.
    But Franco, who houses a friend and her daughter, said in recent months his finances ran thin, what with $375-a-month rent and bills for electricity, gas, a phone and loans for simple furniture in his one-bedroom apartment.
    So, on the advice of another struggling friend, he walked to the Community Pantry in Gallup and bought a box of groceries for the reduced price of $15. The pantry will give away food, but when possible it sells a box of groceries at a discount to help support itself.
    For Franco, it was a little windfall -- a whole chicken, a two-pound