Hunger directly impacts our children’s ability to learn and grow in our public schools. When schoolchildren are properly fed, their attendance, behavior and grades all improve. New Mexico has long led the nation in child hunger, and has held the top spot since 2017, according to Save the Children.
Our children are hungry because of the endemic poverty that crushes our state and from which no political administration seems able to lift us. It’s a cycle where poor education is a factor, along with a culture of public corruption, a lack of long-term economic vision, and over a century of one-party rule among our lawmakers, where consolidating power is more important than delivering better results for New Mexicans.
This is usually a political column. And I can tell you what both sides will say on the issue of child hunger. The left might offer a comprehensive government spending and rebate plan that might include increased family welfare benefits, tax credits, and changes for benefit eligibility to expand access. The right could counter this by requiring drug tests for welfare recipients, expanding tax cuts to put more money into individual households, and loosening regulations to attract more businesses and jobs to the state.
It’s possible that a combination of these approaches could make an impact for New Mexico’s children. It’s also highly unlikely given the makeup of our Legislature and the level of dialogue. So while the partisan adults bicker, nearly one out of four—24.1%—of our children are hungry.
Now, New Mexico public schools have been providing free breakfast and lunch for decades as we all know. And this program makes sense, because teachers and principals know the kids in their schools and can tell who is hungry. School lunch and breakfast programs go a long way toward feeding hungry kids.
But what about the weekend? A third grader who isn’t being fed at home can lose up to two pounds between Friday and Monday. The school nutrition programs can’t keep up with that. An Albuquerque charity, Feed NM Kids, has built a solution that is getting weekend food to 3,000 Albuquerque Public School students every week.
With the labor of volunteers and funded by donations, Feed NM Kids buys and assembles Snack Packs that are gallon zip-top bags filled with nutritious, non-perishable, easy-open, single-serve food items, along with a spoon and a napkin. The Snack Packs are delivered to APS schools and distributed by teachers, principals, nurses and counselors each Friday for children to take home and eat over the weekend.
Feed NM Kids is not a food bank. The Snack Pack program is not meant to feed a family. It is meant for one hungry child to be able to feed her- or himself over the weekend.
This may sound like a simple fix to a significant problem. There’s much more to it. I spoke with Tracy, the community outreach coordinator for Feed NM Kids (New Mexico being the small town of a state that it is, I went to high school with her husband). She was able to tell me much more about the impact of getting basic food items for your very own for the weekend because she herself faced food insecurity in elementary school. Tracy told me about feeling not just hungry, but unworthy and embarrassed. No child should have to deal with that.
I want to call your attention to three things. First, Feed NM Kids is having a documentary short film premiere next Friday, Oct. 22, at 7 p.m. at the Westside Albuquerque Calvary Church. Filmmaker Sarah Karafani produced a 30-minute film that tells the story of the program, Tracy’s story, and even some of the children who are getting food. I’ve seen a couple pre-release clips and it’s riveting. It’s a free event. If you can’t make it in person, it will be streamed on Feed NM Kids’ Facebook page.
Second, Feed NM Kids needs help. The 3,000 Snack Packs delivered every week are not enough for every hungry child. Food costs, as we all see with our weekly grocery bill, are going up—up to 30% for some items in the Snack Packs. You can make a donation for a month’s worth of Snack Packs for one child, 12 children, or as many children as you like at FeedNMKids.com. The cost of a Snack Pack is less than $5, about the same as one of your lattes or breakfast burritos. Think about the jumpstart you can give a hungry child on the school week to come.
Finally, the documentary talks a little about how to start local programs in your community and your school system. If you are reading this outside of Albuquerque Public Schools, give that idea some thought. Our rural areas have even higher child hunger rates than Bernalillo County, and the impact of a Snack Pack program could be even greater.