Data shows that one in every four children throughout New Mexico are food insecure – that’s approximately 130,000 children who are unsure where their next meal is coming from.
Breaks from school and out-of-school time present challenges for many families with low income who rely on meals provided at school. This is a serious issue – children require good nutrition for optimal growth and development, readiness to learn and school performance. When it comes to hunger, even when we control for the effects of factors correlated with poverty, food-insecure children are more likely than food-secure children to face health problems such as anemia, lower nutrient intake, cognitive problems and so on.
The after-school space serves as a bridge, providing opportunities for youth to have access to healthy foods when they are not in school, and can be a critical partner in addressing childhood hunger in the state. Throughout New Mexico, there are limited resources for youth to access healthy meals after school. This is only exacerbated by the fact that after-school programs are not always accessible to low-income families due to program fees. It is well documented that after-school programs can prevent summer learning loss and can mediate achievement gaps that exist among low-income youth – especially in math and reading – but are also cost prohibitive to these youth.
The At-Risk Program is a component of the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) that provides meals to youth who do not have access to food after school hours. The most recent national data from the Food Research & Action Center shows New Mexico had an average daily participation of 5,934 students in the At-Risk Afterschool Meals Program in 2017. The Food Research & Action Center has established a goal for each state to provide 15 suppers for every 100 free/reduced school lunches provided. Only the District of Columbia has achieved the 15:100 goal.
If New Mexico was to serve 15 suppers for every 100 lunches served via the National School Lunch Program, New Mexico could have an average daily participation in the At-Risk Meals Program of 27,699 children. With this number, New Mexico could feed an additional 21,764 children after 3 p.m., which translates to $1,323,750 in additional federal reimbursement dollars that can be used to hire staff, purchase new equipment and expand access to after-school programs by decreasing fees. Meeting this goal, however, is not possible if more after-school programs do not exist.
There are several after-school programs throughout the state working toward reducing hunger by adding suppers.
• Albuquerque is able to serve thousands of meals every week at its after-school sites throughout Bernalillo County.
• The Rio Grande Educational Collaborative provides meals to the children taking part in its programming and served nearly 20,000 meals in April this year.
• Moving Arts Española provides free farm-to-table suppers prepared fresh daily in-house by Chef Laura Cox to 300 children a week. Over the course of a year, Moving Arts provides 12,000 free meals to youth throughout the Española region.
Expanding access to healthy meals after school to the 130,000 children who face food insecurity is a necessary investment to improve the health and education outcomes of New Mexico’s most vulnerable citizens. Each day after-school programs keep youth safe, offer enrichment opportunities and provide youth with food they may otherwise not have. By investing in after-school programs and utilizing child nutrition programs such as the Child and Adult Care Food Program, we can work toward ensuring all New Mexican youth have access to healthy meals and build a successful and hunger-free New Mexico!