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After-school programs feed youth

During the national celebration of the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) this week, the New Mexico Out-of-School Time Network and New Mexico Appleseed join with after-school programs and family child care providers in acknowledging the many ways our community benefits from providing free, nutritious meals to our state’s children and youth.

It is through the CACFP that entities like Presbyterian Healthcare Services is able to provide free meals to children and youth throughout the year – a vital resource that many families throughout the state will be able to utilize during the three week K-12 public school cancelation.

Nationally, the CACFP program provides over 2 billion meals and snacks to over 4.6 million children daily in after-school programs, child care centers and family care homes. In New Mexico, CACFP helps provide after-school meals to about 6,662 children every day.

Children and youth participating in the CACFP receive nutritious USDA regulated meals that ensure their proper development. These children gain from early nutrition education that helps them establish positive eating habits that will enrich the quality of their diet and health throughout their life.

New Mexico leads the nation for food insecure children per capita. We therefore want to honor all CACFP providers and sponsors for their invaluable work done on behalf of New Mexico children.

Farmington Municipal Schools (FMS) and the Boys & Girls Club of Farmington work together to provide high quality afterschool programming for Farmington children and youth. The two are currently taking a lead in ensuring children and youth throughout the school district are not heading home hungry. Utilizing the At-Risk Afterschool Meals Program, a component of CACFP, FMS is distributing afterschool meals in three different after-school pilot sites.

Ann Diehl, Director of Title I for Farmington Municipal Schools, emphasizes a “strong partnership and collaboration with CYFD, NMPED,and Boys & Girls Club of Farmington is essential for organizing and implementing the meals program.” Meetings between the different entities began in the fall of 2019, and the district was serving meals at their after-school programs in early January.

The need and desire to implement the program in Farmington came from on-the-ground staff who were relaying that children and youth were reporting not having enough food at home, or not eating dinner the night prior. This was a reoccurring issue, and crisis that was seen and heard from the district, which prompted them to elevate the conversation in order to act on the matter. Not only are children being fed in their after-school programming, but the food is and can be used as a recruitment tool while also enhancing child performance in and after school.

Though the At-Risk Afterschool Meals Program is designed for an assortment of organizations, programs and childcare centers, the program truly works optimally when spearheaded and administered by school districts. Not only do districts have the capacity that many smaller after-school programs do not have, they also have the facilities and the connections with other state entities that make the process smoother and more efficient. By recruiting more school districts to take the lead on administering and sponsoring the program, free after-school meals will become more accessible to not only school-based after-school programs, but also to those programs that are smaller and located in rural geographic areas throughout the state.

However, roadblocks do occur. For FMS, figuring out custodial duties and staff was a challenge overcome by sharing cleanup responsibility with the after-school provider. By collaborating and continually sharing success stories about CACFP implementation, New Mexico can continue to develop best practices and recommendations in expanding the after-school meals program across all school districts throughout the state and contribute to the ongoing efforts to eradicate the crippling effects that poverty and hunger have on New Mexico children and youth.

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