Providing healthy food for children in need

Roadrunner Food Bank's Childhood Hunger Initiative, supported by BCBSNM, helps bring nutritious food to low-income families.

Hunger is an issue for 1 in 6 New Mexicans, according to Feeding America’s 2017 Map the Meal Gap report. The rate of hunger for children in the state is even higher; 1 in 4 children is food insecure. In some counties, the percentage of food-insecure children climbs to as high as nearly 35 percent.

To help address this problem, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of New Mexico (BCBSNM) supports Roadrunner Food Bank’s Childhood Hunger Initiative. In 2017, BCBSNM renewed a three-year annual grant for $60,000 to Roadrunner Food Bank to give low-income families at 11 schools across New Mexico access to healthy food.

The grant, funded through BCBSNM’s Healthy Kids, Healthy Families® program, also supports mobile food pantry distributions at two senior centers as part of Roadrunner Food Bank’s Senior Hunger Initiative.

In the first three years of the partnership, BCBSNM’s grant brought more than 780,000 pounds of food to 50,000 clients at schools.

School personnel identify families and children in their schools who are experiencing hunger and invite them to participate. Each family receives 50 pounds of food monthly, including fruits, vegetables, meat, dairy and non-perishables.

Miriam Guerrero is a food recipient at Van Buren Middle School, where her sister goes to school. Guerrero said that the food pantry helps feed her family. “It’s helped us because my dad is the only one that works,” she said.

A primary goal of the Childhood Hunger Initiative is to feed hungry children by bringing nutritious food to families in their own communities. In addition to supplementing a household’s monthly food needs, the pantries help families save their limited resources for other essentials, such as gasoline and utilities. The distributions ease families’ worries about where their next meal will come from. And having access to food pantries at their schools fosters a sense of comfort and trust.

Each family receives 50 pounds of food monthly, which includes fruits, vegetables, meat, dairy and non-perishable food items.

“It’s a support system,” said Perla Garcia Manjarrez, a volunteer at the mobile food pantry at Van Buren Middle School.

On distribution days, a large truck delivers pallets of food, which volunteers unpack and organize. The school space transforms into a farmer’s market where families move from table to table, picking up fresh foods as well as packaged items.

The food pantries have had a positive effect on the participants. Roadrunner Food Bank’s Childhood Hunger Initiative poll shows that 97 percent of surveyed families said that they ate more fruits and vegetables. Eighty-three percent said they ate less unhealthy foods. Sixty-one percent said their children had better grades, and 56 percent had better school attendance.

The BCBSNM grant has also brought more awareness about health, explained Sonya Warwick, Roadrunner Food Bank communications officer. This is due in part to the Care Van®, BCBSNM’s mobile health unit, teaming up with licensed medical professionals to provide basic health services at many of the school distribution sites.

Shawn Morris, principal at Van Buren Middle School, said that students often go home to empty cupboards and refrigerators. “The mobile food pantry provides food for those families,” Morris said. “So when they come to school, they’re not hungry, and they’re ready to learn.”

For more information about the Childhood Hunger Initiative, visit Roadrunner Food Bank.