Marfa Nutrition Center sees support from local art collective

Former Presidio County Sheriff Abe Gonzalez plays bingo at the Marfa Nutrition Center. (photos by Maisie Crow)

MARFA — When Dersu Collective approached the city earlier this year about using their annual project to raise funds for the Marfa Nutrition Center, the city took the opportunity to match it. Now, area seniors are seeing the fruits of that generosity.

“It’s kind of the most beautiful collaboration,” Former Marfa Mayor Ann Marie Nafziger told The Big Bend Sentinel. Local artists were able to sell their work, the city was able to match the funds, and residents were able to use their skills to provide much needed upgrades.

Dersu Collective is a local organization that brings area artists together annually to sell work in an art sale at The Marfa Book Company in support of a local cause. Past years have focused on supporting projects like the Pre-K/Montessori playground, the 4-H science program and the Marfa Education Foundation.

Now in its ninth year, Dersu Collective co-founders, Nick Terry and Maryam Amiryani, have shifted their focus to benefitting seniors. “We really felt this was an area that’s been a bit overlooked,” Amiryani said.

Marfa Nutrition Center Director Edward Cobos

The collective was initially looking to find a way to support the implementation of hospice care in the region, Amiryani said.  But after exploring hospice care in the area and learning how difficult it is to bring those services to Marfa, the co-founders decided instead to focus on helping an existing organization.

“We were thinking, well, what’s available here? And of course there is no hospice care, and how do we get it? But meanwhile, Dersu can help with the kitchen,” said Amiryani.

Terry and Amiryani approached the center to see where they might need support. Marfa Nutrition Center Director Edward Cobos was fast to respond, “The first thing I asked for was the dishwasher.”

A commercial dishwasher typically costs upwards of $5,000. Terry noted that without a match from the city, the dishwasher probably would not have been installed. “That match allowed us to be able to pay Junie Villarreal and Saul Guerrero to do the actual work and prepare the areas for the equipment to be installed,” said Terry. “We always try to focus on something very specific instead of trying to save the Amazon.”

The collective finds fundraising success by focusing its efforts on a community need that they feel is attainable, yet able to make a substantial difference. For Terry that means finding projects “that don’t need a million dollars but could slip through the cracks.”

Former Mayor Nafziger noted the importance of the center to the community. During her 2017 campaign for mayor, she says Marfa residents often asked her what would happen to “their parents or their aunts and uncles” if the center closed.

During her tenure, Nafziger prioritized the center by meeting with the Rio Grande Council Of Government’s Area Agency On Aging to make sure the city was in compliance with the agency’s standards around food as well as finding funding sources and increasing the budget for a center director.

Bingo numbers are called out at the Marfa Nutrition Center.

In addition to matching Dersu’s fundraising efforts, the city also received a $30,000 grant from The Still Water Foundation. Funding from the grant will go towards ADA compliant bathrooms and high traffic flooring.

This past weekend, Cobos also did some fundraising of his own. He sold menudo at the Marfa Lights Festival closing event, raising $450 for the center.

The Marfa Nutrition Center is one of very few services in Marfa that exists to support seniors and the only designated space for them to congregate. The center also runs the local Meals on Wheels program and relies on volunteers to deliver meals.

Cobos believes the center is pivotal to the senior community in Marfa and that without it, he says, many of his congregants might be in a nursing home somewhere.

In an interview with The Big Bend Sentinel, Terry agreed with Cobos — describing the social aspect as “a big, important factor.”

“A lot of people come in and have their meals here,” he said. It is “maybe the one time of day when they are not alone.”

When Cobos started his new job at the Marfa Nutrition Center in January, daily lunch clients were already familiar with his food. Cobos had been a cook at Mando’s Restaurant, and one of the first things his new clients asked for was “hamburgers, Mando’s style.”

Cobos was happy to oblige — though he’s quick to note that the Rio Grande Council of Government’s Area Agency on Aging has a set menu that all nutrition centers in the region follow. For the most part, he sticks to it. But from time to time, he tweaks it in response to demand.

“We do have a little bit of leeway” to change items, he says — especially when he gets a response of: “Uck, you’re feeding us that?”

In those cases, he might play around with the menu. “I try my best to keep them happy,” he said. “It makes my heart happy to see them happy.”

One favorite at the nutrition center is the bingo game from 12:30 to 1pm each day.“You do not mess with their bingo,” Cobos says with a chuckle. “I mean it.”

Earlier this year, Cobos was alerted to what seemed to be an electrical fire. His first thought was to get the seniors out of the building.

Not even a fire, though, would interrupt the seniors’ bingo game.

When the fire marshal walked in shortly after 1pm, all of the seniors –– who had just finished their daily game –– were walking out. Cobos tried explaining to the fire marshal why his congregants were just exiting the building. All he could think to say was, “Bingo.”

Cobos was relieved that everyone was fine. “They were busy playing their bingo game and didn’t even notice [the fire],” he said. “None of them got sick, none of them worried about it. That’s their main activity.”

The next day, the same crowd returned. They were back for another warm meal — and a game of bingo.

The Marfa Nutrition Center is hosting a ‘meet and greet’ for current volunteers and those interested in volunteering this evening at 5:30pm at the Marfa Nutrition Center in the MAC Building. Those who can’t attend but are interested in volunteering can email [email protected] or stop by the center and ask to speak with Edward Cobos.