Racing in New Mexico has come to a screeching halt until at least April 24 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but even under such delicate circumstances, many of the track's horsemen and women have given their time and money to help those most threatened by the closures of businesses and services, led by Vanessa Evans.
Evans is a Thoroughbred owner and the wife of trainer Justin Evans, who was leading the trainer standings by both wins and earnings during the Sunland Park meet before the remainder of the season was called off on March 15. The couple also owns Quad A Farm in Anthony, N.M., which stands young stallion Alsono.
Along with her 7-year-old son Austin and his teacher Jamie Livingston, Vanessa Evans has been at the forefront of forming a program to deliver snack packs to school-aged children in need and isolated senior citizens in Sunland Park, N.M., and the surrounding communities.
Justin Evans said the idea clicked into place after Austin's school quickly went from its normally scheduled spring break to at least four weeks off due to concerns over the coronavirus. That time off has since been extended even further. Without the steady daily meal that school offers, this could put many area children at risk of going underfed, due to an inability by families to pay or parents having to leave their children during the day for work.
“Sunland Park's a poor area, and those kids are going to be on break for a month or more with a chance of them not being able to eat for that long,” Justin said. “It was heartbreaking, and she came up with the idea and started on it immediately.”
Working with the mantra that something had to be done to help the children, Vanessa battled the grocery lines on Monday to secure as many pre-packaged food items as she could afford.
The Evans family is in a safer financial position than most at the Sunland Park track, given their place in the earnings standings, but making bulk food purchases at a time when the family might go a month or more without racetrack income is still taking a risk with what could be precious reserves. Fortunately, she wasn't the only one bankrolling the endeavor.
“Trainers that didn't have much gave,” Justin said. “Trainers that aren't winning many races… gave. Owners, grooms, gallop boys all donated. It was just amazing the outpouring of people who gave in a time of their own crisis but wanted to make sure somebody else wasn't in crisis. It tears you up thinking about it.”
Helping the children was the first priority, but it also became clear upon collecting items that the effort could help people on the other end of the age spectrum as well. Evans dropped off items to at least three different assisted living and retirement homes on Tuesday.
“A lot of those places are on lockdown,” Justin said. “She said that was some of the brightest parts of (the day), when they made the call to drop that off – the nurses, how happy they were. Some of these people have nothing to look forward to. They're socially isolated, they can't talk to anybody, they're in their rooms, and maybe a little deal like this makes their day. I think it's a beautiful thing she's doing.
“There's pudding in there, there's granola bars, there's Oreo cookies – individually-wrapped items that might feed a kid or a senior citizen for a day or two, at least give them the joy or the thought that they don't have to worry about food for that day,” he continued.
With racing at Sunland Park done for the season, the next meet in New Mexico is scheduled to begin on April 24 at SunRay Park in Farmington. However, long-reaching restrictions on large gatherings to limit the spread of COVID-19 put that meet in as much in jeopardy as any other in the country. It could be a while before anyone in the New Mexico racing industry is making money again.
There is always a level of risk of giving something of your own when the future is not promised, but for the Evans family, it's been more than worth it.
“We could be anywhere from 60 to 90 days,” Justin said. “Nobody knows on this. We've gone against our own safety net a little bit to make sure maybe we can take a little bit of pressure off of somebody that really has pressure.”
To donate toward Evans' efforts on GoFundMe, click here.
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