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New Mexico launches summer meal program

Eleven-year-old Christina Garcia, left, gets her meal from Maria Vargas at Santa Fe Village Park on Wednesday as part of the summer lunch program.(Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Eleven-year-old Christina Garcia, left, gets her meal from Maria Vargas at Santa Fe Village Park on Wednesday as part of the summer lunch program. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — More than $7 million in federal Department of Agriculture aid money will flow into New Mexico to fund the annual free summer lunch program for kids that is expected to deliver about 3 million meals, officials announced Wednesday.

Gov. Susana Martinez and Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry announced the opening day of the program at a news conference in Santa Fe Village park at Unser and MontaƱo NW just after the first lunch serving of the season.

It is one of about 900 sites in the state serving meals during the summer, non-school months.

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“Providing nutritious meals to New Mexico’s children during the summer months fuels their bodies and minds while they are not in school,” Martinez said while kids and families played at the park.

The program has for the last five years served about 3 million meals across the state to any child under 18 who shows up at a meal site. No ID or registration is required.

USDA Special Nutrition Programs Director Eddie Longoria helped Berry and Martinez launch this year’s program.

He said the USDA funds programs in each state using a formula based on population and free or reduced school meal numbers.

He said there is a “nutritional gap” for kids who eat free or reduced meals at public school and then don’t have access to such meals during the summer.

Nationally, he said 22.1 million kids get free or reduced lunch. The summer lunch program aims to reach those kids.

But it is available to any child, first come, first served.

Berry said that in addition to feeding kids, the program provides jobs. He said the USDA funds 125 jobs through Albuquerque Public Schools, which handles the summer food program for Albuquerque.

He said the USDA funding makes it possible to keep food-insecure children fed during the summer so they don’t languish and fall even further behind at school.

“So this really matters,” he said.

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