Feed New Mexico Kids reaches into community - Albuquerque Journal

Feed New Mexico Kids reaches into community

Volunteers with Feed New Mexico Kids assemble weekend snack packs for needy APS kids. From left: Brenda Roybal, Lydia Flynn, organization founder Holly Slade, Elizabeth Ortega and Irene Ruebush. (Rick Nathanson/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

Inside a portable building on the grounds of Wilson Middle School, a group of women stand behind a long table, grabbing nonperishable food items out of boxes and stuffing them into clear-plastic gallon bags.

The bags will be distributed to needy Albuquerque Public School kids to help them get through the weekend, so that when they come to school on Mondays, they won’t be too hungry or distracted to learn.

The women are part of an organization called Feed New Mexico Kids, a partnership with local faith-based organizations, area businesses and individual donors. It was started in March 2017 by local real estate agent Holly Slade, who was looking for an answer to a problem that weighed heavily on her mind.

Holly Slade, founder of Feed New Mexico Kids, shows a stuffed 1-gallon bag of snacks for APS children to take home for the weekend. (Rick Nathanson/Albuquerque Journal)

“How is it that we live in an industrialized, civilized country, in a metropolitan area with vast resources, and still have hungry children all around us?” she wondered. “I just thought it was shameful, because we can do something about it.”

So she did just that.

The organization began working with APS to identify food insecure kids and has thus far sent 34 tons of food home with them in plastic, 1-gallon bags weighing roughly 2 pounds each – enough to help them get through the weekend.

Now, Feed New Mexico Kids is conducting an outreach program to assemble 2,000 Thanksgiving boxes and get them into the hands of some of those needy kids and families.

“We started to work on the hunger issue with APS, because it’s the largest school district in the state,” Slade says. “New Mexico is ranked number one in the nation for childhood hunger, and within APS there’s a percentage of schools that qualify for reduced and free breakfast and lunch” under the Title I federal aid program.

In 2017, APS identified 3,750 kids who qualified as being homeless, meaning “they lacked a safe, reliable place of shelter at night,” Slade says.

This would include kids who are “couch surfing,” living in a car, staying in a homeless shelter, moving from motel to motel on a voucher system, living in families doubled and tripled up in housing not meant to accommodate that number, or living with grandparents or other relatives who may themselves be living on Social Security income.

Among the nonperishable items being sought for snack packs are canned meat ravioli, tuna packets, beef jerky, peanut butter crackers, power bars, pudding and similar foods. (Rick Nathanson/Albuquerque Journal)

Starting with these students, volunteers with Feed New Mexico Kids conduct a year-round collection of nonperishable, single-serve foods, such as canned meat ravioli, tuna packets, beef jerky, peanut butter crackers, power bars, pudding and the like. The items are packed in resealable bags, along with a napkin and plastic utensils, and delivered to the schools.

“The schools – whether it’s a school nurse, counselor or a principal – know who their most needy students are, and they distribute the snack packs to the kids to take home for the weekend,” Slade says. “We’re not covering all 3,750 kids. We don’t have enough food yet.”

Still, 34 tons of food divided into individual snack packs in 19 months is impressive by any measure.

Lydia Flynn has been volunteering with Feed New Mexico Kids since the program began. A former school teacher from Maryland, she says, “I know the needs of children, and when I moved here I was really touched by the poverty I saw. I didn’t see this kind of poverty in Maryland. It’s very dramatic, and I felt like I needed to do something.”

Former certified nursing assistant Brenda Roybal appreciates the intention of the Feed New Mexico Kids program.

“I remember when my kids were little there were times that we were struggling, and my husband and I would not eat just so we would have food for our children,” she says.

Likewise, says Elizabeth Ortega, who attended Alameda Elementary School as child, “I was one of those kids who was given food and clothing, so I just know the value of getting a little extra when we needed it and how very helpful it was to my family.”

Slade points to a host of statistics from various organizations that fight hunger, including Roadrunner Food Bank. It is clear that kids who experience hunger are more likely to experience physical, psychological and cognitive issues, including depression, anxiety, diabetes, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, school suspensions, suicides and more.

Feed New Mexico Kids is now accepting donations to purchase enough food to assemble 2,000 Thanksgiving boxes for needy kids in grades K-12 and their families.

Each donation of $40 to the food drive, “A Seat at the Table,” provides one box dinner that feeds four people. The prepared Thanksgiving meal includes pre-cooked turkey, containers of dehydrated stuffing, potatoes and gravy that require only the addition of hot water, as well as cinnamon apples, plates, forks and serving utensils.

“We’ve partnered with APS Food and Nutrition, the division of APS that orders the food and prepares the lunches for the kids, so it’s a very sanitary and safe food production facility,” Slade says.

According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, 28 percent of children in New Mexico live in food insecure homes.

Feeding America, the nationwide network of more than 200 food banks, which feeds about 46 million people a year, estimates in its Map the Meal Gap survey that the annual food budget shortfall in New Mexico is $160.3 million a year, while the shortfall in Bernalillo County alone is $51.7 million.

“There is no single church, business or government organization that can take care of this problem; it requires everyone partnering together,” Slade says.

“As a community we have to take responsibility for our youngest and most vulnerable members of our society. They need a community to rally around them and help them get through school. So let’s be responsible toward them and they will in turn graduate and become responsible members of our society.”

Albuquerque Journal and its reporters are committed to telling the stories of our community.

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