It’s been a tough year for New Mexico schoolchildren, but through it all, they have at least had access to meals. That will continue through the summer.
The school meal program has been chugging on, month after month. Students who could not attend school in person could go to their school or another site and pick up meals to take home. According to Public Education Department spokesperson Judy Robinson, the total number of meals provided in the 12 months between March 2020 and February 2021 was 32,261,941. That’s 32 million.
The summer program is now in operation, with more than 700 sites around the state. To find the site nearest you, go to summerfoodnm.org and select your city or town. Then click the map for detailed information, which will include the exact location of the site plus the days and specific hours when food is served. All service will be on a grab and go basis. Covid restrictions are still being followed.
Most sites are providing breakfast and lunch Monday through Friday. Some are also in operation on Saturdays and a few on Sundays.
Meals are available to all children ages 1 to 18 at no cost — regardless whether they were enrolled or otherwise qualified for free lunch.
Some districts will allow students to take home a week’s worth of food rather than picking food up one meal at a time. That’s at the discretion of the district and is a variation from normal rules.
The programs are a cooperative effort by the school districts, the Public Education Department, the state’s new Early Childhood Education and Care Department, and the US Department of Agriculture, which has been the financial backbone behind school meal programs for as long as we can remember.
The summer program is good news. But I have a few concerns.
I wonder who is providing (or not) the rest of the week’s meals for all those children.
I wonder whether the children are getting all the food or whether adult family members might be diverting some of it. I can’t think of any way to prevent that if it is happening.
On a larger scale, I wonder what is so out of balance in our society that parents cannot afford to feed their children. And whether today’s children will come to believe that’s normal.
The annual Kids Count Data Book was released about a week ago. The book is, as always, a report on the well-being of America’s children through statistical measures, state by state and segmented by ethnicity.
While most of the measures in this year’s book are pre-pandemic, a few give insight into how children fared during the Covid lockdown.
One category is “Adults in households with children who sometimes or often do not have enough food to eat.” New Mexico overall fared the same as the national average. Hispanics in New Mexico did significantly better (13%) than the national average of Hispanics (20%), but the number is still appalling. Native Americans did even worse with 22% for New Mexico compared to 20% nationally.
When the schools were forced to close last year, the meal program was an immediate statewide priority. It’s easy to see why.
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