ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — School may be out, but children can still receive a nutritious free lunch thanks to a government program that will serve nearly 3 million meals at 800 sites across the state.
Gov. Susana Martinez kicked off the 2017 summer food service program Wednesday at Rio Grande High in Albuquerque’s South Valley alongside Children, Youth and Families Department Cabinet Secretary Monique Jacobson.
Funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the program is open to any child under age 18 through Aug. 4. During the governor’s tenure, more than 16.5 million lunches have been served.
“Having access to good meals ensures our kids get the essential fuel their bodies and minds need while they’re out having fun over the summer,” Martinez said. “I encourage all parents to take advantage of the summer food program so our kids are ready to succeed the next school year.”
Jacobson said she has seen children worry about how they will eat during the summer because they depend on their school’s free breakfast and lunch.
Food insecurity is a significant problem in New Mexico, which has the nation’s second-highest rate of child poverty, according to the latest Kids Count Data Book.
Roughly 29 percent of New Mexico children live in poverty – 141,000 in total. The problem has increased by 18 percent since 2008.
“The more stressors we can alleviate in these children’s lives, the better opportunity they have to thrive,” Jacobson told the Journal. “It’s so hard to focus if you are hungry. We want kids to keep reading over the summer months, so we think we can help with the achievement gap by just keeping kids’ bellies full.”
The regular meal is also convenient for busy moms like Reena Rocha.
Throughout the summer, Rocha takes four kids to the summer food service program: 6-year-old son RJ, 3-year-old daughter Rita, 13-year-old nephew Moises and 9-year-old niece Emma.
When they are done eating, the group often goes swimming at the Rio Grande pool.
“It is awesome,” Rocha said. “This helps out a lot.”